Rick Perry was defiant as ever this afternoon at the Capitol. The governor sketched out his priorities for the legislative session in a brief speech to the Texas Senate on the Legislature’s opening day and made clear his approach this session will look very familiar. If you were hoping that the state’s improved budget outlook might lead to a slight increase in spending on items like schools and health care, Perry intimated this afternoon that those items aren’t high on his priority list.
After welcoming special guest Rick Santorum—who was sitting among the senators’ family and friends in the back of the chamber—Perry said the state’s budget surplus, announced yesterday by Comptroller Susan Combs, is proof that “we put Texas on the right path.” And lawmakers need to resist the urge to spend. “There are interest groups in the state who view Monday’s revenue estimate as ringing the dinner bell.”
Moments before Perry said those words, a young Senate staffer standing in the back of the chamber—standing right behind me, actually—fainted. She collapsed on to me and Reuters correspondent Corrie MacLaggan. The young woman’s head hit the floor hard, and she lay motionless for what seemed an eternity, though it was probably only 15-20 seconds. It was a scary moment.
The commotion stopped Perry’s speech, and Sens. Bob Deuell and Donna Campbell, both of whom are doctors, rushed to the woman’s aid. She soon regained consciousness and was helped into a side room. She appeared OK. I hope she is OK. Perry, after seeing the woman helped shakily off the floor, quipped, “I haven’t had that effect on someone in a long time.” Then he added that talk of higher taxes can literally cause “people to swoon.”
The governor then proceeded with his other priorities for the session: Getting the state’s “fiscal house in order,” a constitutional limit on spending, stopping any tax increases, and preventing the “raiding” of the $11.8 billion Rainy Day Fund for any ongoing spending. Perry also wants to end fund diversions, which redirect certain state fees from their intended purpose. (We actually listed this among our 12 issues the Lege should address. Everyone seems to agree that money collected by the state for a specific purpose shouldn’t be diverted. But this never seems to change for the simple reason that the lege needs that money for other purposes. Tapping other sources of revenue would help end these diversions—an apparent contradiction in his priorities, but we digress).
The governor also wants to pass “tax relief” and “streamline government,” two euphemisms for tax cuts and further budget cuts.
Perry said Texas needs to protect its unemployment and welfare programs from abuse by drug testing all applicants.
Finally, Perry said that lawmakers need to protect “our most vulnerable citizens.” At last, I thought, Perry will talk about the millions of Texans living in poverty whose children may be uninsured and attending failing schools. The Lege axed $5.4 billion from public education last session. Or perhaps he would talk about elderly and disabled Texans who rely on under-funded social services that also suffered budget cuts the past two years
Perry was talking about “the unborn.” He wants to end abortions “for any fetus that can feel pain.” Of course, when a fetus can feel pain is a question that will be hashed out when the so-called fetal pain bill gets debated.
There are many other challenges in Texas. Schools are suffering after massive budget cuts, the state still has the highest uninsured rate in the country, the state water plan remains unfunded despite record drought, Texas emits more carbon than any state in the U.S.. and the state budget still has a $10-billion recurring deficit created by Perry’s under-performing business tax.
All of that went unmentioned. Instead, we got tax relief, spending cap, drug tests for the unemployed and anti-abortion rhetoric. In doing so, Perry hinted strongly that he will spend another session tethered to the right wing of his party.