AUSTIN, Texas — Beginning September 1, there will be no pay for the Texas legislature. Gov. Greg Abbott’s unprecedented veto is prompting questions about the separation of powers in the state. As state Democrats explore legal options to fight back against Abbott’s retaliatory move, some legislative staffers are on edge.
While they may be the most visible, Texas lawmakers are not the only ones who work under the Capitol dome. Odus Evbagharu is the chief of staff for Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston.
“The job becomes increasingly harder for them if they don't have staff in place, not just chief of staff, but legislative directors, as well aides. Not just us in our office, too, but the Legislative Reference Library, Legislative Budget Board, Legislative Council. There's a lot of folks who make this thing go," Evbagharu told Capital Tonight.
But because of House Democrats' dramatic walkout during the final days of session, Abbott slashed the entire legislature’s salaries. Democratic lawmakers blocked the passage of a controversial elections bill.
“Basically we are in uncharted waters and the seas are a bit choppy at the moment,” said Dale Craymer, president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association. “It affects about 2,000 people.”
In a statement, Abbott said "Texans don’t run from a legislative fight, and they don’t walk away from unfinished business. Funding should not be provided for those who quit their job early, leaving their state with unfinished business and exposing taxpayers to higher costs for an additional legislative session."
Evbagharu said the move could affect the livelihood and health of employees who played no part in the decision to break quorum.
“Paying the bills. I know some staffers that are in the middle of chemotherapy right now. I know another staffer that's in their second trimester of pregnancy," he said.
Elected officials make $600 a month and $221 per diem. For Senate staffers, the median salary is just under $45,000 a year, meanwhile for the House it is $36,000. Then there are the legislative agencies. The employees of the Legislative Council earn a median income of $65,000.
"We are coming into a special session that we're going to have in the fall to do redistricting. This is vetoing those people whose job it is to give us the data we need to draw fair maps that represent the state, whatever other issues that we would be considered in special session," Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, told Capital Tonight.
As for Evbagharu, he considers himself luckier than other staffers when it comes to savings.
“What I'm hoping is that come September 1, the Governor’s changed his mind, because he's punishing a whole lot of people for just what one group of people did," he said.
Lawmakers could be back in Austin before the budget goes into effect. That means there could be an opportunity to pass a supplemental budget to cover legislature’s pay. Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick has reportedly said targeting staff’s salary could ensure Democrats show up for the special session.
A previous version of this story misspelled Rep. Jon Rosenthal 's name. It has since been corrected.