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The governor of Texas doesn't really have the authority to freeze hiring, except in his or her own office, but he’s got the bully pulpit.
And Greg Abbott used it to full effect in his State of the State speech last week, telling state agencies to pull down the hiring signs until the end of August, when the state’s fiscal year ends. He is making exceptions for public safety and other issues on a case-by-case basis.
The bully pulpit is a powerful soapbox, of course, and there is always the threat that a governor might get really, really mad at anyone who disobeyed his wishes. But the law doesn’t actually give him the power of hiring and firing in state agencies that aren’t part of the governor’s office. Texas governors can't fire the heads of other state agencies, university regents, or even the members of the commissions and boards that they themselves appoint.
Texas is not a strong governor state, whether any particular governor is a strong personality or not.
Texas governors can veto bills. They can appoint people to selected offices. And they can talk.
Vetoes are subject to overrides, if the Legislature is sufficiently stirred up. Appointments only stick if the Senate confirms the governor’s choices. And talk only works if someone says “How high?” when a governor says “Jump!”
Abbott's recently announced hiring freeze is an exercise of that third power: Talk.
Don’t dismiss it outright. Agencies are jumping. Yes, the budget is written by the Legislature and the governor signs it and has a line-item veto power. But he can’t add to it. He doesn’t control the state’s checkbook — that’s the comptroller’s job. He doesn’t handle payroll (comptroller again). And his powers are limited if someone tells him to stick it up his nose.
But the power of suggestion is, after all, a power. If you want to prosper in the executive branch of the Texas government, you’d best believe that the chief executive can find a way to bring praise or opprobrium to your office door. He might not be able to fire you, but he can probably make you want to quit.