Texas Gov.-elect Greg Abbott has yet to take office, but he came to town Tuesday to give local lawmakers an important message: bipartisanship is the key to success next year.
Abbott, a Republican who will be sworn in as governor on Jan. 20, said he is ready to get to work on top priorities — transportation, education and border security — that he and many lawmakers share.
“I have a proven record of working on a bipartisan basis,” he said. “I work with members of both parties to achieve … the very best for the state of Texas.”
“I know we have the best team on the field in our legislators. If we go out there and … work hard every day, we are going to have great results.”
Bipartisanship has not always been the norm in Austin, with sharp partisan divides often leading to open conflict, such as in fights over abortion and education spending in the 2013 legislative session. But bipartisanship was the hallmark of one of Abbott’s predecessors, George W. Bush.
Abbott spoke to reporters after a closed-door roundtable at the Arlington Chamber of Commerce with more than a dozen legislators from North Texas.
He stressed in front of legislators that he has an open-door policy and that communication will be key in the 84th Legislative Session that begins Jan. 13.
“I’m just a straight shooter. If I tell you I want $4 billion more in transportation, that means I want $4 billion more in transportation,” he said. “You get what you see.
“I’ll be straight-forward with you and I’d appreciate it if you are straight-forward with me,” he told lawmakers. “I think we will get a whole lot done … if we don’t play hide-and-seek games.”
Goals for 2015
He mentioned three top priorities:
Transportation: “We have to build more roads,” he said. “The roads, especially in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, are highly congested.” Proposition 1 approved by Texans this year will help, adding $1.7 billion for roads.
But Abbott said he also wants to end diverting transportation funds to other purposes, as has been done in the past, and he suggested taking money from sales taxes already paid when Texans buy vehicles and dedicating that to building roads as well.
Education: Among his education proposals is achieving “high quality pre-K” to give Texas’ youths a head start in life. Part of his plan calls for allocating $1,500 per student to every school district that implements quality pre-kindergarden care.
Border Security: “We recognize, legally, border security is a federal responsibility,” Abbott said. “But Texas is not going to stand idly by waiting for the federal government to do their job.”
He said he has a plan to add $300 million more in funding, as well as earmarking 500 more Texas Department of Public Safety troopers, Texas Rangers and more local law enforcement — as well as a “beefed up” gang unit — to “help us do a better job than we’ve ever done ensuring the security of our border as well as the security of our communities, including Dallas and Fort Worth.”
Local lawmakers attending included state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, and state Reps. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, and state Reps.-elect Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth, and Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington.
Romero said he was pleased to hear Abbott talk about bipartisan efforts.
And he said he spoke during the private roundtable about local transportation needs. “I think he clearly agrees,” he said.
Tinderholt said the gathering was a good opportunity for lawmakers to meet with the governor-elect to talk about issues they hope can be addressed during the session.
And Zedler said he was glad to hear from the governor about “what he thought were the priorities.”
“It was helpful,” he said. “It starts everybody off on a good foot.”
Abbott said he is looking forward to a successful session.
“This is a beginning,” he said. “Not an end.”