Abbott in inaugural address: Legislature will prioritize budget surpluses, schools and power grids

Gov. Greg Abbott, in his third inaugural address Tuesday, stressed that the legislature’s session will focus on historic budget surpluses, “parental rights” in schools and public safety.

Notably, he focused on infrastructure, including the power grid, after a 2021 winter storm and power outage left millions of Texans in the dark and hundreds died. Abbott touted the improvements to the network, which he successfully promoted in the following months, but acknowledged that there was still a lot of work to be done.

In doing so, he joined Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in calling the network a top priority for the session. Abbott, who ran for re-election last year, ignored criticisms of unresolved network problems and declared them fixed.

“We all know there will be increased demand for the network as Texas continues to grow,” Abbott said. “So, in this session, we will build the network that powers our state—not for the next four years, but for the next 40 years.”

Abbott is on track to become the second longest-serving governor of Texas after Rick Perry, who has served for over 14 years. Abbott enters his third term after a decisive re-election victory in November and with big ambitions for the session that include “the biggest property tax cut in Texas history,” a promise he repeated in his inaugural address. Abbott is also starting his third term as a potential White House candidate in 2024, and his aides say he will consider the matter after the legislative session closes in May.

Patrick was also sworn in for a third term on Tuesday morning on the north steps of the Texas Capitol in Austin, on stage under a massive Texas flag. Both he and Abbott were first elected to their current positions in 2014.

“Governor, we did it again,” Patrick told Abbott. “Three Peats”.

Democrats criticized the inauguration for not having a plan to “address the economic problems that Texans face,” as the chairman of the Democratic House of Representatives caucus put it.

“Across the state, families are having difficult conversations at the kitchen table about the rising cost of goods and services,” Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio said in a statement. “Texan Republicans have been in control of this state for almost thirty years, and thirty years later, the cost to Texas families has never been higher.”

On the contrary, both inaugural speeches were imbued with the exclusivity of sunny Texas; Abbott declared the state “America’s undisputed economic leader”. And he said that showed up in a huge $33 billion budget surplus, which he stressed was “taxpayer-owned” with record property tax cuts.

Patrick was more careful, if not more specific, when he promised property tax exemptions. In his speech, he said the aid would be “billions of dollars” and that leaders would find a way to make it sustainable. He also said the Senate will introduce a budget this week that will increase the homestead tax exemption from $40,000 to $70,000, a bigger jump than he previously discussed.

But “the most important thing we can do” at this session, Patrick said, is “strengthen the grid” by reaffirming our desire to build more natural gas production capacity.

Abbott also turned to infrastructure outside the grid, saying lawmakers should improve the condition of roads, water supplies and ports.

Regarding schools, Abbott said they should be “for education, not nurturing” and that they should “get back to teaching our students the basics”. He also dwelled on school choice, stating that parents “deserve the freedom to choose the education that is best for their child.” In his campaign for re-election, Abbott declared his strongest support for vouchers or the provision of public dollars to fund students attending private schools.

“The Governor and I are in complete agreement with the choice of the school,” Patrick said, acknowledging the concern of rural communities that such a program would undermine their public schools. “To the naysayers who say school choice is hurting rural Texas, the Governor and I will develop a plan to financially protect these schools and ensure these parents have a choice even when they are in a dysfunctional school.”

Patrick was perhaps most eloquent in the statements he made about public college professors in Texas who teach critical race theory. Patrick first proposed this idea in February last year.

“I don’t want teachers in our colleges to say that America is evil, capitalism is bad, and socialism is good. And if that means some of those professors who teach this don’t want to come to Texas, I’m fine with that,” Patrick said, adding that he needs “professors who love this country, who love this state.”

Abbott also pointed to the aftermath of the May shooting at Uvalde’s school. Although Abbott and other Republican leaders resisted any new gun restrictions, after the shooting they focused their proposals on keeping school buildings safe, with Abbott saying in a speech that he and lawmakers “will not end this session without making schools safer.”

Neither Abbott nor Patrick specifically mentioned the Uvalde shooting in their speeches.

Abbott spent more time discussing other ways to deal with violent crime. He called for “mandatory sentencing for gun criminals”, generally joining Patrick in favor of a 10-year minimum sentence for gun-related crimes. Abbott also promoted his aggressive border security efforts under President Joe Biden, suggesting that stopping the “deadly fentanyl flowing across the border” would be an appropriate priority for the session.

Abbott’s speech echoed many of the themes of his re-election campaign when he defeated his Democratic opponent Beto O’Rourke by 11 percentage points. Abbott is expected to provide more details on his proposals during his speech to the Legislature on February 16. This speech will also include his emergency issues, which are priority proposals that the Legislature can start working on immediately.

Abbott is also entering the legislature as a possible candidate for the White House in 2024. The governor hasn’t ruled out the possibility that he could run for a long time, and while he’s been a regular on Fox News building his national profile around border security issues, he hasn’t taken some of the typical steps that other would-be 2024 candidates have done, such as traveling to the states. with early voting.

“What he always said [is] when the meeting is over, he will look at the situation and decide if his voice, his experience is needed to enter the fray,” said Dave Carney, chief political strategist at Abbott. “But until then, we won’t go to New Hampshire or Iowa or South Carolina — what you would want to do if you were blindly ambitious. But he will be very logical about it and see what the market can handle.”

Abbott himself echoed the rumors in a Fox News interview published ahead of the inauguration on Tuesday. Asked if he rules out the 2024 campaign, he replied: “I think the more accurate way would be to say that this is not what I am ruling right now. I’m focused on Texas, period.”

Former President Donald Trump has already applied for a return, which Abbott has not commented on. Patrick backed Trump for 2024 and mentioned the race in his speech on Tuesday: “We’re going to need White House changes on the 24th to secure the border because this president isn’t doing his job.”

The state’s other red governor, Florida’s Ron DeSantis, has emerged as the biggest threat to Trump, and like Abbott, DeSantis is expected to wait until after his state’s legislative session this year to make any announcement about 2024.

But for two years now, Abbott has seemed to have a quiet rivalry with DeSantis over attention-grabbing conservative politics. Abbott announced Sunday, for example, that he will sign legislation to prevent certain foreign entities, such as Russia and China, from buying land in Texas, a matter that DeSantis has been vocal about in his state of late.

Inaugural celebrations, funding

Tuesday’s speeches were the main attraction of the two-day inaugural events in Austin. On Monday evening, an inaugural mass was held at St. Mary’s Cathedral, and fireworks were held at the Capitol in the evening. After Tuesday’s ceremony, the inaugural committee hosts a “Taste of Texas” dinner on the other side of the Capitol, serving specialties from restaurants across the state. And on Tuesday night, Abbott and Patrick are set to attend the Texas Celebration Ball at Austin City Limits Live at The Moody Theatre.

With an estimated price tag of at least $3 million, this year’s inaugural events are likely to be smaller compared to Abbott’s first two inaugurations. The Texas Tribune reported that Abbott’s first two inaugurations cost far more than those of recent predecessors, exceeding $5 million each. They also included huge payouts to employees and fundraisers — $1.9 million in 2018.

Despite this, inaugurations regularly provide state leaders with the opportunity to reward donors and generously give them benefits. Tilman Fertitta, a Houston businessman who chaired this year’s inaugural committee, and Javid Anwar, a Midland oil tycoon and Abbott’s main sponsor, fought alongside Abbott on the inaugural stage.

Corporations are prohibited from campaigning in Texas, but they can fund inaugurations. Tuesday’s inauguration program featured top corporate sponsors, including pipeline company Energy Transfer, grocery store giant HEB and Las Vegas Sands, a gaming empire that wants to legalize casinos in Texas.

Abbott and Patrick were not the only politicians to speak at the ceremony. The lieutenant governor was introduced by former state senator Eddie Lucio Jr., a Brownsville Democrat who did not seek reelection and broke with his party to openly support Patrick for many years. Patrick was also represented by state senator Brandon Creighton, a Republican Conroe who chairs the Senate Education Committee and is poised to play a major role on Patrick’s agenda this session.

“We are gearing up for one of the most conservative sessions in Texas history, a visionary agenda that this country has not yet seen,” Creighton said.

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