Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who wields immense power over the state legislature, unveiled a list of 21 priorities for the 2023 session, including reducing property taxes, improving the state’s power grid and boosting border security.
“We have an extraordinary opportunity, unlike we have never had before, to chart the future of the state of Texas and create a vision — and that’s really the goal today,” Patrick said at a news conference Wednesday.
When lawmakers convene for the 88th legislative session on Jan. 10, they are expected to have a $27 billion budget surplus to spend on state projects.
At the top of his list, Patrick said, is using some of that money to provide property tax relief, partly through increases to the general residence homestead exemption for school property taxes.
Texas voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in May raising the school district homestead exemption to $40,000. Patrick said he wants to increase that again to $60,000 or $65,000.
His power plan includes legislation that would guarantee that the state will build more natural gas plants to address ongoing weaknesses in the system after a severe winter storm in February 2021 caused days of blackouts and hundreds of deaths.
A report released this week by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas found that, in spite of attempts to improve the system, a severe winter storm could still force the state’s power supplier to ask consumers to cut back on power use or even impose rolling blackouts.
Patrick said he wants Republicans in the state legislature to introduce legislation that would allow the state to recall district attorneys and judges who “refuse to follow Texas law,” according to reports. Many of the state’s district attorneys are Democrats elected in more liberal, urban areas, who are often at odds with the state’s Republican leaders’ determination to prosecute crimes related to abortion and immigration.
He also revisited plans he has previously pushed for, including an effort to reform tenure at higher education institutions and to pass a parental “bill of rights.”
Patrick has said he wants the legislature to amend tenure rules at the state’s public universities so that teaching so-called critical race theory would be grounds for revocation. He has also said he wants the legislature to adopt a law modeled after one in Florida that prohibits teaching sexual orientation or gender identity to kids below the fourth grade.
Patrick is among the most powerful lieutenant governors in the country. He presides over the state Senate, where he is in charge of the agenda and standing committees and has the deciding word if there is a tie. He also co-chairs the state budgeting board, which leads the development of the state budget.
Patrick also wields considerable political influence, having spent his career building a national political brand as a conservative Republican that rivals that of Gov. Greg Abbott, a potential contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
For those reasons, Patrick’s remarks in advance of the legislative session will be parsed for instances in which he diverges with Abbott, who will not have a chance to set out his agenda until he delivers his state of the state address in January, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.
“What Patrick wants, goes,” Rottinghaus said. While Patrick and Abbott frequently agree, Rottinghaus said, Patrick’s property tax and power grid plans were at odds with the governor’s.
Patrick said Wednesday that he did not think half of the state’s surplus could be used for property tax relief efforts — as Abbott promised during his re-election campaign this year — without breaking a constitutional cap on spending. Abbott has also publicly declared that the state’s power grid failures have been remedied.
Rottinghaus said it was also notable that Patrick did not mention conservative social issues, including abortion and policies related to transgender people, that were a core part of the national Republican brand during recent election cycles.
“What was more interesting than what he said was what he didn’t say,” Rottinghaus said, adding that he will be watching whether Abbott follows Patrick’s lead during his state of the state address.
“The fact that Patrick doesn’t talk about some of these hot-button conservative issues might mean that Abbott won’t either,” he said, noting that Patrick is generally considered more conservative than Abbott, and Abbott would not want to take a position to Patrick’s right unless he had to. “You can get a sense of Abbott’s national intentions if he talks about some of the big social issues that motivate the base.”