Public Service or Personal Gain?

January 2, 2024
TFR Staff
88th Legislative Session, Property Tax, Spending, State Pension System, Texas Legislature

2023 was a year of legislative disappointments: mediocre property tax relief, wasteful spending, and fiscal irresponsibility; however, there was another egregious example of legislative impropriety that may have flown under the radar for some. 

While you were struggling under the weight of crushing inflation, property taxes, and more, legislators in Austin were busy attempting to give themselves and state judges (taxpayer-funded government employees) a raise not just once… but twice.


House Bill 438, introduced by State Rep. Mike Schofield (R-Katy), would have created a system for automatically increasing state judicial salaries along with the rise of inflation. 

The bill’s introduction, as highlighted by Texans for Fiscal Responsibility (TFR) earlier last year, indicated that it primarily aimed to raise the base salaries of district judges based on inflation. This alone poses a concern as it would increase the salaries of government employees at the expense of taxpayers, who have not been afforded similar adjustments, particularly in the realm of property tax relief. 

However, as we pointed out, the proposed modifications in HB 438 would have also impacted the calculation of legislator pensions because, at the time, legislator pensions were tied to judge salaries and thus would increase lawmaker pensions (at the expense of taxpayers). 

Thankfully, enough attention was brought against the bill that it died in the Senate Committee on Finance after passing the Texas House by a vote of 134 in support and only 10 in opposition.


After HB 438 stalled in the Senate and after the passage of SB 1509, which “decoupled” the calculation of lawmaker pensions from that of judge salaries, another bill was proposed in the House attempting to raise the base salary of District Judges. 

HB 2779, authored by State Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Allen), once again sought to increase the annual base salary for district judges to account for inflation. 

Although the bill as introduced did not touch upon lawmaker pensions, when the bill arrived on the House floor, an amendment by Rep. Tracy King (D-Uvalde) was offered and quickly adopted, which would create a system for raising lawmaker pensions, explicitly stating that the calculation for pensions would now include increases “to reflect inflation or any other relevant factors”.

HB 2779 was voted on and passed out of the House, with the pension-raising amendment still attached.

In the end, despite passing through the Senate, the bill ran out of time as the session ended.


These are just a couple of specific examples of some of the fiscally irresponsible and inappropriate actions many lawmakers took in 2023 (unfortunate themes that we will continue to highlight to help ensure voters are informed). Texas taxpayers and voters across the state must keep these and other failures in mind when going to the polls in 2024. 

Since both efforts to raise the salaries of judges and the pensions of lawmakers failed, it is also likely that efforts to pass similar legislation will be revived in the next regular legislative session in 2025, something that taxpayers should be ready to oppose. 

TFR has consistently called out lawmakers for misleading information and questionable calculations, and we will continue to do so.