On Tuesday morning, Gov. Rick Perry gave his seventh—and possibly last—State of the State speech. Perry struck several conservative policy notes in his speech in the Texas House chamber, including a call for more tax cuts, “school choice” reforms and full-throated rejection of the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare.
He also called for an amendment to the Texas Constitution to allow for tax revenue to be returned to taxpayers in the event of a surplus. “We’ve never bought into the notion that if you collect more than you need to spend more. I’m calling for a method to be put in place, so that when we do bring in more than we need, we’ll have the option of returning tax money to the people who paid it,” he said.
Just as Perry mentioned wanting more feedback on tax cuts, Rev. James Caldwell and a group of protesters from the Texas Organizing Project began yelling about health care from the balcony. The audience, including Anita Perry, clapped louder and louder in order to drown out the man’s yells as he was escorted from the House chamber. (Perhaps Perry should have been more specific about the kind of feedback he wanted.)
When the House floor settled, Perry said, joking, “I didn’t know there would be that much excitement about tax relief.” Muffled bursts of “EXPAND MEDICAID NOW!” continued to filter in from outside the chamber.
In case there was any doubt, the governor cemented his unyielding opposition to Obamacare, including an expansion of Medicaid that would cover at least 1.5 million Texans and cost the state nothing for the first three years. (A recent analysis by the liberal, D.C.-based Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimated the federal government would pay 93 percent of the costs for the first nine years of Medicaid expansion). Earlier this week, former deputy comptroller Billy Hamilton released an analysis concluding that Medicaid expansion was a good fiscal deal for the state.
But Perry remains unmoved. “We’ve made it clear Texas will not expand Medicaid under the [Affordable Care Act],” he said this morning. “We won’t set up state exchanges either, as Chairman [Jane] Nelson will attest to. Texas will not drive millions more into an unsustainable system, a system that will drive this state into bankruptcy.”
“We have not changed and will not change our position,” he affirmed to a chamber filled with applause. He assured the floor that this would not be a problem. “Time and time again, we’ve seen that when people keep their money, they invest it wisely and selflessly in things that are important to them.”
Perry also mentioned supporting Sen. Dan Patrick’s school-choice initiative. He explained that “not every child thrives in the same setting.” He continued, “Limiting a child to just one opportunity does nothing more than limit that child’s future. The way forward must involve more public charter schools.”
Absent from Perry’s speech were the red-meat social issues he’s often associated with. He left out any mention of abortion, a prominent theme of speeches he gave at the Texas Public Policy Foundation keynote and on the opening day of the Legislature.
The House Democratic caucus held a press conference immediately after Gov. Perry’s speech. Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) was visibly frustrated. “Choice is a bad word when it comes to women’s healthcare, but choice is a good word when it comes to charter schools,” he said. “We must not let nomenclature and fancy words mislead what’s actually being done. Scholarships? We know what they are—they’re vouchers.”
Rep. Naomi Gonzalez (D-El Paso) voiced fundamental disagreement with Gov. Perry as well. “I have to say that I’m not sure what parallel universe Gov. Perry is living in, but I can tell you that it is not the district that I represent,” she said.
Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, expressed further confusion about the Medicaid decision. “Set aside for a minute what Medicaid expansion would do for the good health of our state,” Watson said. “What it would do for the economic health of our state is pretty significant, if not phenomenal. But yet, almost because of just disliking who might have won the election, we’re not going to focus on something that will make citizens of this state healthier and make our economy healthier.
“I’m still puzzled.”