Abbott and Patrick took the oath for the third time

Austin. Two top Texas officials were sworn in on the north steps of the Capitol on Tuesday morning.

Governors Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, both Republicans, were each sworn in for the third time. Both took the opportunity to highlight policy priorities, including lowering property taxes, increasing infrastructure investment, and implementing school choice.

“Today we are gathered in anticipation of a legislative session that will change the lives of Texans for generations,” Abbott said during his speech. “Together we will build the Texas of tomorrow, not just for the next four years, but for the next century.”

Abbott and Patrick will lead the 88th Texas Legislature on its $188.2 billion budget, including a $32.7 billion surplus. Within 140 days, legislators will finalize discussions on the biennial budget and pass bills. The surplus, the largest in Texas history, was partly due to post-pandemic economic growth, energy price spikes and the highest level of headline price inflation in 40 years, state leaders said.

Abbott and Patrick noted what they would each like to do with this funding.

Priorities Abbott

On the campaign trail, Abbott promised to use half of its then-planned $27 billion surplus to cut property taxes.

The Texas Legislative Budget Board’s decision will not make that possible, as only an additional $10 billion of the total surplus will be available to lawmakers this session. The rest will be reserved for highway funds and the state fund for a rainy day.

However, on Tuesday, Abbott said he plans to use the budget surplus “to secure the largest property tax cut in Texas history.”

“Our great economy has set another record. We now have the largest budget surplus in the history of our state. But make no mistake, this money does not belong to the government. It belongs to the taxpayers,” Abbott said.

He also promised to pay attention to school safety in this session, almost eight months after a gunman entered Robb’s Uvalda Elementary School and killed 19 fourth graders and two teachers.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Abbott did not offer gun reform options, instead focusing on mental health and school hardening.

“We will not end this session without making our schools safer,” Abbott said. “We must prioritize the protection of students and staff. … Parents need to know that their children are safe when they give them a lift every morning.”

Abbott also cited improving the state’s road, water and port infrastructure, and the state’s power grid as top priorities.

While the network has managed to stay afloat during recent extreme weather events, including a hard freeze last month, with the state’s rapidly growing population of roughly 30 million and more coming, Abbott said it needs additional investment.

“We will build a network that will power our state not only for the next four years, but for the next 40 years,” he promised.

Patrick’s agenda

Patrick proposed a plan to reduce the estate tax, promising to further increase the homestead tax exemption. The state homestead exemption was once $15,000 before it was raised to $25,000 in 2015 and most recently to $40,000 in May.

Now Patrick is promising that the soon-to-be-released Senate budget will include a homestead tax exemption of up to $70,000.

“(It) will save you thousands of dollars over the life of your home, and that’s enough to make a difference,” Patrick said.

He also promised to increase the commercial real estate benefit from $2,500 to $100,000.

“This is a tax that small and medium businesses pay for their chairs, desks and computers. It’s a nasty tax and we need to get rid of it,” Patrick said.

Patrick also said the Senate is already planning to allocate more funds to border security efforts and to rural law enforcement, which is struggling to pay enough salaries to sheriffs and deputies.

He also doubled down on past claims that it could deprive professors who teach critical race theory of the university-level academic concept that race is a social construct embedded in American legal systems and politics.

“For our research professors and our doctors, tenure is fine, but I don’t want professors in the classroom to teach every day – just like parents don’t want children from K to 12 years old – what if you are white you’re a racist, and if you’re colored, you’re a victim. I don’t want teachers in our colleges to say that America is evil,” he said.

Patrick also touted his plan to launch a school choice program that would allow public education funds to follow a student wherever they go to school, be it public, private or home schooling. He has been a leading proponent of the measure, arguing that it allows parents to send their children to whatever school is best suited to their student, regardless of financial standing.

Those who oppose the program fear it will deprive already struggling public school systems. Patrick said he and other elected state leaders have a school financial protection plan in place to ensure that no school faces financial hardship.

“The Governor and I are in complete agreement with the choice of the school,” Patrick said.

The inauguration celebrations, which began on Monday, continued until Tuesday evening, where they ended with a ball.

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