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Gov. Perry Talks Tough on the Budget in Houston

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Gov. Rick Perry was in Houston today to unveil his Texas Budget Compact, five fiscal tenets that he hopes will influence the coming primary season and carry over into next year’s legislative session.

Subtitled “Principles for a Stronger Texas,” they were:

- Practice truth in budgeting;

- Support a Constitutional limit of spending to the growth of population and inflation;

- Oppose any new taxes or tax increases, and make the small business tax exemption permanent;

- Preserve a strong Rainy Day Fund;

- Cut unnecessary and duplicative government programs and agencies.

Standing in front of a pristine blue semi truck inside a New World Van Lines warehouse in northwest Houston, Perry addressed the press and a crowd of about a hundred supporters, who burst into hearty applause repeatedly during his half-hour speech. Arriving fifteen minutes late, Perry looked confident and clear-eyed in a dark grey suit and cornflower blue tie, his hair graying at the temples.

His remarks, and those of state Sen. Dan Patrick, a Houston Republican, and two supporters who followed, formed a kind of conservative bingo: “True conservative,” check. “Job creators,” check. Derision of Washington, Obamacare and California, check.

Michael Quinn Sullivan of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility explained that being the most fiscally conservative state was no great accomplishment for Texas, “like being the least drunk person at the bar. California is sitting in the corner drooling on itself and muttering about ex-girlfriends.” He also said it was nice to be out of “the People’s Republic of Austin.” Texas, he said, is “the shining city on a hill” that Ronald Reagan talked about. Check twice.

Perry warned that some would want to use the increased tax revenue from Texas’ recovering economy to restore budget cuts. “Going on a spending spree here in Texas is the single worst thing we can do,” he said. “We have to treat each dollar as respectfully and carefully as we can.”

Perry suggested being less careful with Medicaid recipients.

“The cost of Medicaid is a ticking time bomb,” Perry said, adding that “this process will accelerate if the Supreme Court doesn’t find Obamacare unconstitutional.” Hauntingly, he called for Washington to allow Texas to “take care of our citizens as we see fit,” by distributing Medicaid funds to the state in block grants.

In a very brief press conference afterward, Perry answered two questions from a Fox affiliate. “We’re starting to hear another round of wailing and gnashing of teeth from school districts,” one question began. Did the Governor think they “will mind” the Texas Budget Compact?

Perry replied that things were tough all over, saying this was the “same as in 1985. We managed to make our ends meet.” He added, “The school boards will prioritize what’s important and they’ll fund that.”

Perry declined another reporter’s request to name any of the programs he considered “unnecessary and duplicative,” steering clear of a familiar minefield.

He said he wasn’t going to ask for anyone to actually sign a pledge to uphold his Budget Compact—but that other organizations might. But if Perry isn’t going to ask anyone to actually sign the pledge, one might wonder just what the whole thing was about.

Photo op for a weakened politician coming off a disastrous presidential run? Check.

Emily DePrang is a staff writer at The Texas Observer where she covers criminal justice and public health. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic and Salon.com, and she’s a former nonfiction editor of the Sonora Review. She’s holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Arizona and a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. In 2013, she was a National Health Journalism Fellow; in 2012 she won the Sigma Delta Chi award for public service in magazine journalism.