Democrats sue Texas governor over vetoing pay after walkout

Texas Democratic lawmakers who blocked one of America's most restrictive voting measures with a dramatic walkout sued Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday after he vetoed funds that cover thousands of Capitol paychecks that he said shouldn't be given "to those who quit their job early."

The lawsuit reflects the tensions that remain in Texas more than a month after Democrats' staged a late-night quorum break to stop the GOP from passing tougher election laws in Texas. 

Going straight to the Texas Supreme Court, Democrats called the veto an unconstitutional power grab. Abbott has indicated he will give lawmakers the chance to reinstate the money once they return for the special session.

The veto of more than $400 million in funds didn't just punish Democrats: paychecks for the offices of Republican legislators are also impacted, as well as nonpartisan support staff around the Capitol. Democratic state Rep. Chris Turner put the number of affected jobs in the legislative branch at more than 2,000.

"Governor Abbott’s position — that he is able to defund a co-equal branch unless or until it bends to his will — contains no limiting principle," the lawsuit reads.

Abbott's office did not immediately return a request seeking comment.

In his veto proclamation, Abbott wrote: "Funding should not be provided for those who quit their job early, leaving the state with unfinished business and exposing taxpayers to higher costs for an additional legislative session."

The vetoed funding only applies to the next budget cycle that begins in September, meaning paychecks for Capitol staffers will continue at least until then. Lawmakers make just $600 a month in Texas — where the Legislature only meets for five months every other year — and many have well-paying careers back home. But Democrats say the veto puts at risk legislative staff whose jobs are their main source of income.

It was unclear when the court might take up the lawsuit.

Democrats are girding for another fight over voting this summer. Abbott and Republican leaders have promised to deliver new election laws in Texas, which already has some of the nation's toughest voting restrictions, but have given little indication of what the next proposals might include.

The walkout by Democrats in May unfolded after nightfall as Republicans raced to pass a sweeping voting measure, known as Senate Bill 7, before a midnight deadline. Democrats say they were especially galled at last-minute changes to the bill that included a prohibition on Sunday morning voting — a time widely used by Black churchgoers — and provisions that could make it easier for a judge to overturn an election.

Office of the Governor Press Secretary Renae Eze issued the following statement regarding the lawsuit filed by Texas Democrat state representatives and others to halt the execution of the Governor's veto of Article X:

"The governor’s veto power is granted by the Texas Constitution, and the Texas Supreme Court has recognized that ‘the Governor has power to disapprove any bill.’ Also, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has made clear that the Constitution does not 'impose any restriction on the [governor’s] veto power.’ More to the point, that court also ruled that ‘the governor’s power to exercise a veto may not be circumscribed by the Legislature [or] by the courts.’ This is not the first time, and undoubtedly will not be the last time, that a governor vetoes funding for government positions and salaries. Any limitation on that authority directly contradicts the Constitution and decades of vetoes by governors.

"The Democrats’ claims about the governor’s veto ‘cancelling’ the legislative branch are misleading and misguided. The Constitution protects the legislative branch, and as the Democrats well know, their positions, their powers and their salaries are protected by the Constitution. They can continue to legislate despite the veto."

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