AUSTIN — Texas’ top two elected officials were sworn into office on the north steps of the Capitol Tuesday morning.
Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, both Republicans, took the oath of office each for the third time. Both used the opportunity to highlight policy priorities including reducing property taxes, making greater investments in infrastructure and implementing school choice.
“Today, we gather on the threshold of a legislative session that will transform the lives of Texans for generations,” Abbott said during his address. “Together, we will build the Texas of tomorrow, not just for the next four years but for the next century.”
Abbott and Patrick will guide the 88th Texas Legislature through its $188.2 billion budget, which includes a $32.7 billion surplus. During the 140-day term, lawmakers will finalize a biennial budget debate and pass bills. The surplus, the largest in Texas history, came about in part due to economic growth following the pandemic, spikes in energy prices and the highest rate of general price inflation in 40 years, state leaders have said.
Abbott and Patrick made note of what each would like to do with that funding.
On the campaign trail, Abbott vowed to use half of the then-projected $27 billion surplus to reduce property taxes.
A decision by the Texas Legislative Budget Board will not make that possible as only an additional $10 billion of the total surplus will be available to lawmakers this session. The remaining will be reserved for highway funds and the state’s rainy day fund.
Nonetheless, Abbott said Tuesday he plans to use the budget surplus “to provide the largest property tax cut in Texas history.”
“Our great economy has produced another record. We now have the largest budget surplus in the history of our state. But make no mistake, that money does not belong to the government. It belongs to the taxpayers,” Abbott said.
He also vowed to address school safety this session, nearly eight months after a gunman entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde and killed 19 fourth graders and two teachers.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, Abbott has steered clear of offering gun reform options, instead opting to focus on mental health and hardening schools.
“We will not end this session without making our schools safer,” Abbott said. “We must prioritize protecting students and staff. … Parents must know that their children are safe when they drop them off every morning.”
Abbott also named improving road, water and port infrastructure, as well as the state’s electrical grid, as top priorities.
While the grid has managed to stay afloat during recent extreme weather events including a deep freeze last month, with the state’s booming populations — an estimated 30 million with more coming — Abbott said more investments are needed to meet the demand of that growth.
“We will build a grid that powers our state for more than just the next four years, but for the next 40 years,” he promised.
Patrick offered a plan for property tax reduction, vowing to raise the homestead exemption once again. The state’s homestead exemptions once sat at $15,000, before it was raised to $25,000 in 2015 and most recently to $40,000 in May.
Now, Patrick promises the soon-to-be-released senate budget will include a homestead exemption up to $70,000.
“(This) will save you thousands of dollars over the lifetime of your home, enough to make a difference,” Patrick said.
He also promised to increase the business property exemption from $2,500 to $100,000.
“That's the tax that small and midsize businesses pay on their chairs and their desks and their computers. It's a nuisance tax and we need to get rid of it,” Patrick said.
Patrick also said the senate already plans to commit additional funding to border security efforts and to rural law enforcement agencies that are struggling to pay adequate wages to sheriffs and deputies.
He also doubled down on past claims that he could revoke tenure for professors who teach critical race theory, the university-level academic concept that race is a social construct embedded into American legal systems and policies.
“Tenure is fine for our research professors and our doctors, but for those professors in the classroom every day, I don't want them teaching — just like the parents don't want in K through 12 — that if you're white, you're a racist, and if you're of color, you're a victim. I don't want teachers in our colleges saying America is evil,” he said.
Patrick also touted his plan to launch a school choice program, which would allow state education dollars to follow the student wherever they attend school, whether that be public, private or home schooling. He has been a leading proponent of the measure, arguing that it allows parents to send their children to whichever school best serves their student, regardless of financial status.
Those who oppose the program fear it will defund already struggling public school systems. Patrick said he and other state elected leaders have a plan to financially protect schools so that no school faces financial hardships.
“The governor and I are all in on school choice,” Patrick said.
The inauguration celebrations, which began Monday, continued through Tuesday into the evening where it will conclude with a ball.