Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday that a Trump administration in Washington may help ease the state’s budget crunch by fulfilling its responsibilities to secure the border, giving the state greater flexibility in administering Medicaid and saving Texas the cost of constantly suing the federal government to fight what state officials consider intrusive executive actions and regulations.
Abbott also praised the likely addition of two Texans to the administration — Donald Trump announced Tuesday his choice of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of state, with the appointment of former Gov. Rick Perry as energy secretary expected to follow.
“They know Texas,” Abbott said of his predecessor as governor and of Tillerson who, like Abbott, was born in Wichita Falls, “and particularly the economic drivers of this state,” which, he said, are “so tied to energy.”
Speaking in the Capitol Tuesday with about a dozen reporters for an hour-long discussion of the upcoming legislative session, Abbott also said that he thought that Trump was a smart businessman who would not implement policies that would undermine the state’s ability to continue the trade with Mexico that is crucial to the state’s economic vitality.
“Trump is a businessman who cares about jobs and he will work on actions and laws that promote economic development and create jobs,” Abbott said.
“I think if cross-border trade is diminished it will harm our economy,” said Abbott, who said he trusted Trump would not make that mistake. Abbott did not directly remark on Trump’s oft-stated opposition to NAFTA, a trade agreement that has proved critical to the Texas economy.
The governor said that he expects President Trump to build a wall along parts of the border, though not along the entire border, noting there are “serpentine regions of the Rio Grande where it would be extremely challenging to build a wall.”
“We wouldn’t want to see a wall in the beautiful Big Bend National Park,” Abbott said.
On Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s priority of enacting legislation to protect “women’s privacy,” by requiring persons to use the public rest room of the gender of their birth, Abbott said he has not seen any legislation yet. He said that there was public concern on the issue and that “the apex” of governmental concern ought to be to make sure that Texas feel safe and secure.
But he also said the issue had been forced by an Obama administration directive requiring schools to accommodate the current gender identity of individuals, and the “unknown is whether the Trump administration is going to peel back what the Obama administration did and if so to what effect.”
Abbott said cutting taxes is central to his agenda for the session and “my first choice in a tax cut would be the franchise and margins tax.”
How much of a cut would he like to see?
“As much as I can get,” said Abbott, mentioning approvingly a bill prefiled by state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, that would reduce the business franchise tax rate by 2.5 percent per year if the state’s comptroller certifies there are available funds over the biennial revenue estimate.
Abbott said he would scrutinize every piece of legislation in the session through what he called the “four pillars of Texas government” — what the bill does to promote freedom and liberty, economic opportunity, educational advancement and safety and security.