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Lawmaker Urges San Antonio to challenge Abbott Veto on East Side Project

Gov axed $132M in state funds to rehab S.A.’s G.J. Sutton complex

AUSTIN — State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer is imploring San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor and the City Council to consider challenging Gov. Greg Abbott’s axing of $132 million in state funding earmarked to rehab the G.J. Sutton complex after questions arose this week about the validity of Abbott’s line-item budget vetoes.

Calling it an act to save taxpayer money, Abbott last month vetoed more than $230 million in spending approved by the Legislature as part of the state’s $209 billion, two-year budget that’s set to take effect Sept. 1.

Included in the list of budget-slashing moves was the veto of a $132 million infusion to rehabilitate the abandoned G.J. Sutton building, a project city leaders have cast as a vital component of restoration efforts on the near East Side.

Martinez Fischer, in a letter sent this week to Taylor and the council, writes that a recent controversy about the line-item vetoes should provide city leaders with enough reason to “consider all available options, including officially challenging the veto.”

“Simply put, Governor Abbott overreached his authority — and badly hurt the interests of the City of San Antonio in the process,” wrote Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, who also volunteered in the letter to lead efforts within the Bexar County delegation. 

The controversy over Abbott’s line-item vetoes started Tuesday when Legislative Budget Board Director Ursula Parks sent a memo to state Comptroller Glenn Hegar saying many of Abbott’s budget vetoes were done improperly and didn’t actually cut spending.

In her letter, Parks said allowing the cuts to take effect “would be a significant expansion of the power of the Governor.”

Abbott’s office has vigorously defended the vetoes.

A top priority for the city during the legislative session, the project to rehabilitate the G.J. Sutton building, a severely battered structure with cracked exterior walls and warped floors, was expected to bring 700 state employees from more than a dozen state agencies into the complex.

City officials now are considering a public-private partnership to breathe life into the state-owned G.J. Sutton building.

“The renovation project was intended to play a major role in the revitalization of the East Side and would have been an enormous boon to the City of San Antonio,” Martinez Fischer wrote.

He added: “I find Governor Abbott’s unprecedented and possibly unconstitutional actions deeply worrisome.”

Abbot has justified the veto by saying the state should not pay the entire cost to renovate the building.

In his veto statement, Abbott said: “All debt and spending to construct new facilities should be approved only after a project has been carefully scrutinized to determine that tax dollars are spent in the most cost-effective manner.”

Taylor on Friday said she has asked for a briefing on “the constitutional challenge of the Governor’s veto, and we will continue to closely monitor this situation.”

“As I have said in the past, we are prepared to assist the state with plans to redevelop the building or move forward with another creative solution,” Taylor said in a statement.

Emails from Abbott’s office released to the San Antonio Express-News show that the governor’s top aide reached out to Taylor’s staff days after the veto to start hashing out a solution.

Abbott’s chief of staff, Daniel Hodge, sent an internal email and copied Abbott on the correspondence on June 24 saying he relayed the message that the “Governor wants to be helpful and supports the Mayor’s efforts to redevelop the area surrounding the G.J. Sutton Building.”

“However, I explained, we were concerned with having the State bear the extensive redevelopment costs,” Hodge wrote.

Hodge, in the email, said he suggested to Taylor’s chief of staff that the best plan would to be to sell the building to private developers. He ended the email with an assurance that both sides have agreed to move in that direction.

“I pledged that we would work with the Mayor’s Office over the course of the interim to develop a plan for the sale of the property,” Hodge wrote.

 

Source: San Antonio Express News