When the Texas Legislature ended its regular session Monday without a deal on property taxes, it was unsurprising to see the House and Senate openly feuding with each other.
The Senate’s presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, has long dogged House leadership as too moderate and too slow to act on his chamber’s priorities.
What came next, however, was far more unusual: Gov. Greg Abbott called a special session on cutting property taxes and asked lawmakers to focus exclusively on one method of relief. The House quickly obliged, but the Senate defied Abbott by passing a broader bill. And when Abbott issued a statement clearly siding with the House, Patrick erupted.
In a statement, Patrick said Abbott “seems misinformed about the roles of the executive and legislative branches of government.”
“Governor Abbott has finally shown his cards,” Patrick said, accusing Abbott of favoring tax cuts for corporations over homeowners. “This is not what homeowners expected when they voted for him.”
It was mild criticism by the standards of Texas’ often dramatic intraparty politics. But for Patrick, it counted as a rare — if not singular — public rebuke of a governor he has long sought to appear allied with.
And it came hours after Patrick brazenly telegraphed that the Senate would disregard Abbott’s call for property tax legislation.
“Look, do you think the governor’s gonna veto a homestead exemption?” Patrick said at a morning discussion in Austin.
Since they first took their respective offices in 2015, Abbott and Patrick have forged a cordial but sometimes uneasy alliance. They are not close friends, but they have built a working relationship that has kept them at the top of state leadership for eight years and counting.
Jason Villalba, a Republican who served in the state House for the first four years of the Abbott-Patrick era, called the sudden conflict between the two leaders a “clash of the titans.”
“They’ve had disagreements, they were gentlemanly about those disagreements through several cycles, but this is the first time that I saw where the disagreements spilled over into the public,” said Villalba, who now runs the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation.
Patrick, Villalba added, is one of the strongest lieutenant governors since Bob Bullock and is used to getting his way.
“For the governor to go against that,” Villalba said, “it really stuck in his craw.”
All sides doubled down Wednesday. House Republicans openly celebrated Abbott’s backing of their approach. Patrick fired off paragraphs-long tweets that continued to question Abbott’s commitment to maximum property tax relief. And Abbott’s office kept touting his — and the House’s — strategy, while seeming to push back against criticism that Abbott finally took a public stand on the issue after months of ambiguity.
“The Governor campaigned on this solution and remained actively involved in the tax discussions throughout the regular legislative session,” Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze said in a statement. “When the legislature failed to reach an agreement on a property tax plan in the regular session, Governor Abbott immediately called a special session to address this top priority. Less than 24 hours later, the Texas House passed his plan.”
Greg Sindelar, the CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said Wednesday that he is optimistic that Abbott, Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan can find a compromise on property taxes, though it may take more than one special session. Sindelar was among those who signed a letter Tuesday backing Abbott’s approach to property taxes in the first special session.
“Everyone knows we have to get this done, and the lieutenant governor and the speaker and the governor, I think they will make it happen,” Sindelar said during a TPPF panel discussion in Austin. “The end of session is a very tense time, but at the end of the day, I think they all know and recognize that we want to deliver for Texans. And so I have very high hopes and expectations that we’ll get there. It just might take another special [session] — or two.”
“We agree 96, 97 percent of the time”
Abbott and Patrick were both first elected to their current positions in 2015, headlining a new wave of more conservative Republicans entering statewide office. It quickly became clear that Patrick, a rabble-rousing former state senator, would move aggressively to set the conservative agenda in Texas, with Abbott, a more deliberative former judge and legislative novice, forced to keep up.
One of their first cold wars came in 2017, when Patrick successfully pushed Abbott to call a special session over a “bathroom bill” that failed amid House opposition in the regular session. Abbott loaded the special session call up with 19 other items, but lawmakers ended up approving only half the agenda, with limits on transgender-friendly bathrooms again failing.