With 49 vetoes and $650 million in spending slashed from the state’s austere budget, Gov. Rick Perry proved again that the 61 percent of Texans who voted against him in the last election were right. The governor is more than willing to put revenge and ideology before sound public policy.
Because of our peculiar legislative calendar, vetoes in Texas effectively empower the governor to single-handedly kill legislation for at least two years. Perry had 20 days after the Legislature adjourned to redline whatever he chose. Out of session for the next 18 months and with no chance to override, lawmakers watched helplessly as bills they spent five months squeezing through the Lege were tossed onto the refuse pile. While Perry’s vetoes this time around were less dramatic than the “bloody Sunday” of 2001-when he sent 82 bills into oblivion-the complaints ring the same. The governor gave legislators little warning during the session that he found their bills objectionable, instead lashing out like a petulant child after it was too late for lawmakers to address his concerns.
Given Perry’s past behavior, it was no surprise that he used his power to exact retribution from lawmakers who bucked him on issues he holds dear. Texas Monthly‘s Paul Burka did the math on his blog and concluded that 17 vetoes, more than one-third, killed legislation pushed by those who crossed Perry on major policy positions. The governor seems most irked by attacks on his beloved Trans-Texas Corridor and a sweeping mandate to vaccinate young girls against HPV. Bryan Republican Sen. Steve Ogden, Dallas Republican Rep. John Carona, and Brenham Republican Rep. Lois Kolkhorst led the charge against Perry’s beloved highway plans and paid the price. Perry vetoed two Kolkhorst bills, including one that Ogden also sponsored. He also axed a bill by Carona. But Perry’s greatest wrath was reserved for Angleton Republican Rep. Dennis Bonnen, who gutted Perry’s HPV proposal. Bonnen had three bills killed, including one to create more aircraft firefighters at his local airport, a bill to declare the Texas blind salamander the state amphibian, and a measure establishing an interim committee to develop long-term energy plans for Texas.
Pique and ideology apparently melded to explain the damage Perry inflicted on higher education and criminal justice. Community colleges serve half of all Texans seeking higher education. As tuition and enrollment at the state’s flagship universities soar, community colleges are being called on to take up the slack of preparing a burgeoning young population for the work force. Yet the governor vetoed a proposal allowing financially needy students from outside a community college district to pay in-district tuition. Perry also axed $154 million for group health insurance for community college employees, as well as $3.3 million to add new students. The governor accused the colleges of dishonesty in their budgeting. The colleges reject Perry’s contention and say the governor’s actions leave them with two choices: Cut services or raise tuition.
While this session saw a major boost to a bipartisan criminal justice reform movement that seeks to slow the pace of incarceration, Perry apparently doesn’t agree with this approach. He vetoed a bill that would have allowed bail instead of more prison time for minor parole violations, and another that would have let authorities restore forfeited “good time” credit to inmates. But Perry did the most damage with his veto of House Bill 3200, which would have created an alternative funding mechanism. The removal of this legislation could imperil other probation reforms that passed.
Texas doesn’t just deserve better leadership. It’s in desperate need of it.