Abbott to seek second term
In re-election bid, governor proposes help for veterans
AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott, using a red-white-andblue Veterans Day event to officially file for re-election, Saturday unveiled a plan to put Texas’ military service personnel at the “front of the line” for expanded state services and employment opportunities, tax breaks and expedited health care services.
His plan also calls for the all-volunteer Texas State Guard to be more than doubled in size, from about 2,300 soldiers to 5,000, to allow the state to respond faster to emergencies and disasters.
It also would provide contract incentives for businesses relocating to Texas through the Texas Enterprise Fund to hire more veterans.
Abbott filed for a second four-year term by submitting more than 6,000 signed petitions to Republican Party of Texas Chairman James Dickey, rather than signing a form declaring his candidacy. It’s the first time in recent state history that a gubernatorial
candidate has done that, aides said.
In other filing action Saturday, incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he filed for re-election and Grady Yarbrough, a retired educator who ran unsuccessfully last year for the Texas Railroad Commission and unsuccessfully in 2012 for the U.S. Senate, filed to run as a Democrat for governor.
Filing for 2018 midterm elections in Texas — covering everything from Congress to the governor’s mansion to the Legislature to local county courthouses — ends Dec. 11.
Abbott says his proposals to help veterans would fulfill a key campaign pledge of his. “When I launched my re-election campaign this summer I made a promise to elevate Texas to even greater heights,” he said.
“I promised to strengthen our education system, crack down on gangs and violent crime and grow our economy and create more jobs. And I also promised to do more to empower our veterans, whether they are returning to the workforce after their service, looking to become an entrepreneur and start a business, or trying to get access to the health care they need.” 1.5M vets live in state
While many of the details in Abbott’s plan need the approval of the Legislature or local officials, the governor said he is confident that they will draw support from lawmakers and the public.
Statistics show Texas is home to the second largest number of veterans in the United States, after California — and the most, if World War II veterans are not included. More than 1.5 million veterans are reported to live in Texas.
Under Abbott’s proposal, Texas would fully fund the veterans mental health program at the state Health and Human Services Commission, doubling the number of exsoldiers who can receive care with an additional $10 million in state funding.
Officials said the program now serves about 152,000 veterans.
Mental and behavioral health programs for veterans would also be enhanced under the proposal, and the state would push to allow federal Veterans Administration benefits to be used to visit private health providers, as a way to avoid long lines at VA hospitals and medical centers.
Abbott said that could have the greatest impact in the Rio Grande Valley, where the closest VA facility is hours away in San Antonio.
Under Abbott’s plan, local taxing authorities would be allowed to grant personal property tax exemptions of up to $30,000 to veteran-owned businesses during their first five years of operation.
“For a small business with a lot of physical inventory, such as a restaurant, this tax relief could be the difference between an unaffordable dream, and a thriving enterprise,” Abbott’s proposal states. “A veteran-owned business would, under the existing definition in Texas law, be a business in which each owner is a veteran.”
In addition, local taxing entities could grant businesses a $15,000 reduction on the assessed value of their commercial property for each new veteran they hire — not to exceed $300,000 per property or 20 percent of the property’s total assessed taxable value.
Local occupational licensing and registration fees could be waived for veterans. State grants to assist veterans with legal issues — primarily in accessing military and other benefits and employment issues, among other matters — would be doubled to $3 million. ‘Filling in the gaps’
The plan also would create a special 22-member gubernatorial commission to “support the U.S. military in Texas” in preparation for expected additional base closures in coming years, to minimize the loss of additional facilities.
Texas’ 15 major military installations generate more than $136.6 billion in economic activity in the state each year, and add $81.4 billion to the gross state product, according to a 2016 report by state Comptroller Glenn Hegar.
Jeffrey Cleland, a former Marine corporal who manages the military service initiative at the George W. Bush Center in Dallas, applauded Abbott’s plan as a significant step forward for Texas veterans.
“This is going above and beyond what a lot of states do,” he said, noting that the plan will allow the state to tap the myriad talents that veterans have to offer. “It’s great.”
Dave Lewis, director of veterans programs for the VetStar health services program in Lubbock, echoed that sentiment.
“This plan involves filling in the gaps where the VA struggles … and it will allow the state to make veterans successful,” he said.