Just what should be designated an “emergency” is always up for debate. Ask any sorority girl who’s lost her straightening iron. (To be fair, ask me every morning when I can’t find my keys.)
But subjective though the term may be, for Gov. Rick Perry it’s beginning to seem like he’s confused “state emergency” with “political point-scoring.” He’s now named four different topics as emergency items—none of which seem to have anything to do with the state’s biggest crisis. Lawmakers have begun to grapple with writing a budget $27 billion short of what they’d need to maintain state services. The implications are scary from almost every area—potential layoffs to teachers, cuts to pre-k programs and payment to Medicaid providers, and community college closures. Some might call this a bit of a difficult position. When lawmakers first saw the draft budget on Wednesday, Democrats and Republicans alike began voicing fears for their districts.
Perry, meanwhile, has more pressing matters to push through the Capitol. The day after lawmakers first learned just how bad the shortfall was, Perry announced his two emergency items for the legislative session: Eminent domain and abolishing sanctuary cities. When it came to the budget, he told freshmen lawmakers to “relax,” and reassured all that the state would pull through. (He did acknowledge balancing the budget may not be easy.)
After lawmakers spent much of yesterday grappling with the first draft of the budget, which includes drastic cuts, the governor announced he had more emergency items. This time, he’s urging lawmakers to quickly pass a Voter ID bill and a state bill pushing for a U.S. constitutional amendment that would require a balanced federal budget.
The only “emergency” appears to be one man’s rush to take the national stage. Despite his denials, we’ve spent months hearing that Perry has national ambitions. These items certainly seem to indicate, at the very least, an effort to develop a national presence.
All four of the issues have clear political advantages. Sanctuary cities, a nebulous phrase alluding to those cities that do not actively enforce federal immigration laws, are not popular with the hardline Republicans. Bills are already filed to create Arizona-style immigration. Happily, by making it an emergency item, Perry can say he, too, did what he could to crack down on illegal immigration.
Voter ID also plays well with conservatives, particularly those concerned about voter fraud. The bills generally require that voters prove their identity with state-issued photo ID or various alternatives. It’s hard to see any emergency here—we’re over a year away from any elections.
Eminent domain reform would protect landowners from having their property involuntarily taken for government projects. Perry lost the support of many farmers when he advocated the Trans-Texas Corridor, a measure that would have seized miles of land. The measure ultimately failed, and by making eminent domain an emergency item, Perry may win back some of the rural, agriculture vote.
I’m not even going to comment on the weirdness of pushing for a resolution encouraging a constitutional amendment. If you can’t figure out that that’s not a crisis, well, go read The Da Vinci Code.
These items make great political ads or applause lines—”I worked to abolish sanctuary cities!” or “When it comes to balancing the federal budget, I made the effort an emergency item in Texas!” But Perry can hardly hide from the budget crisis in this state. One analyst has estimated that 100,000 teachers could get laid off. Four community colleges are at risk of getting closed, and the proposed $9 billion cut to public education isn’t likely to be popular with anyone.
If Perry wants to see himself on the national stage, he’ll have to take some leadership role in this budget cycle—if not, his career could get consumed by it.