This year, the issues of property taxes, school safety, the economy and border security have emerged as top priorities for state lawmakers.
As we know, Texas lawmakers only meet for a few months every other year, and they’ve got some time constraints to consider. One is the bill filing deadline, which is March 10.
With so many priorities and such little time, an effective legislator has to work efficiently. So what do Texans want this session?
Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project, joined the Texas Standard to talk about some new polling data they published Thursday.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity:
Texas Standard: You just released a new poll yesterday showing that immigration and border security was the biggest priority for Texans heading into the legislative session. Explain that a little bit more.
Jim Henson: Yeah, I mean, I think in some ways the border security result is one of the least surprising in most of this poll and one of the most consistent things that we’ve seen. So we asked Texans what they thought should be the Legislature’s top priority, and we asked them in an open-ended question. So they just said what was on their mind; they weren’t choosing from any sort of menu, if you will.
A quarter of Texans said immigration and border security. One might ask why that would be, and that’s because border security continues to be the dominant issue among Republicans. About half of Republicans, 49%, said immigration and border security was their top issue, with another 14% saying inflation, cost of living and the economy.
Democrats look very different. They’re spread out – as Democrats tend to be in these kinds of items – among several issues. Their top issue is gun control and gun safety. But the comparison is really stark there. That was the No. 1 response among Democrats, but only chosen by 13%, compared to that half of Republicans who immediately want the Legislature to work on border security.
Property taxes have once again been a key issue for Texans. What did you find there?
It’s a very interesting dynamic with property taxes – on that list I just talked about of items that our respondents in general thought should be the Legislature’s top priority, only 4% said property taxes. Now, before we think that the Legislature is set to foist something on them that they don’t want: When we ask people about property taxes and about the impact of state taxes, far and away, the most common response when we ask “which of these taxes has the largest impact on your personal finances?” is property tax. Almost half – 47% – say that property tax has the biggest impact. So it’s not as if legislators and political leaders like Gov. [Greg] Abbott and Lt. Gov. [Dan] Patrick are off in the wilderness on this. But they are going to have to put this in front of voters. Voters aren’t thinking about it on their own.
What about the education system? What are people’s priorities when it comes to kids in schools?
The No. 1 issue when we asked Texans what they thought the top priority should be in education is school safety. And I think this obviously reflects what we saw with Uvalde in the shooting last year and the fallout of that. But when you then ask Texans about other issues in other areas, you see more of a partisan divide. Democrats think that teacher pay, teacher retention is also a contending priority. Republicans are very different: We see much more attention to hot-button issues that we’ve seen in the last couple of years emerge in the education space, particularly regulating curriculum content – and that is how students are taught, which reflects this very prominent discussion on “woke education.”
This past fall, Gov. Greg Abbott beat Beto O’Rourke by about 10 percentage points, something many saw as a big endorsement of Abbott’s tenure in office. How are Texans feeling about the governor’s job now?
You know, the governor’s job approval ratings and his favorability ratings are still very high. He’s slightly in positive territory in his job approval rating. He does very well with Republicans, not well at all with Democrats. I think the governor’s numbers reflect, as you say, his success in the last election.