Gov. Rick Perry has been called many things: A peerless political opportunist, an unstoppable advocate for big business, and out of touch with economic reality. But before yesterday's State of the State address, thin-skinned was not on that list.
Before the assembled House and Senate, Perry did the normal greets and shout-outs to the throng, including his wife Anita. That was only noteworthy because he made specific mention of her "wonderful smile." That was an obvious and pointed jab at John Kelso's Jan. 23 column about how the first lady always seems to have her "fierce face" on.
However, Perry's real job for the day (beyond defending his wife's sunny disposition) was to lay out the groundwork for his legislative agenda. When it was delivered, Texas AFT president Linda Bridges summed the whole thing up best: "Gov. Perry," she wrote, "is this really the best you can do?"
There were all the greatest hits: How this is going to be dubbed the Texas Century (Dear Asia, if you could keep the laughter down to a giggle when he says, that, it would be appreciated); Repeated claims that there is no need to fix the budget, and even if there was it would be a bad idea: And a depiction of the federal government that sounds like Uncle Jesse from The Dukes of Hazzard talking about the revenue man.
None of this was unexpected. In fact, with near-clairvoyant insight, on Monday Kelso pre-emptively wrote that the state of the state would require a cheerleader "and who better than Perry, who did that sort of work as a young man at Texas A&M University?"
Yet amongst this rah-rah pom-pom shaking to an old tune, Perry slid in some new policies:
Yet more tort reform: As if he and his party hadn't already made it tough enough for the average Texans to get any form of redress from big business, it's back to curtailing legal options. His claim that cutting down on "frivolous lawsuits" and that this is all about making the courts "accessible to the little guy" might be more credible if he wasn't suggesting a "loser pays" system whereby whoever loses pays all court and legal costs. Because there is no way that could create a chilling effect on David versus Goliath-style cases. No way at all.
Protect the Rainy Day Fund: Considering that he was not prepared to use it for emergencies like Hurricanes Ike and Gustav, or for its core purpose as a reserve in times of extraordinary economic hardship, this scarcely seems like a change. But Perry argued that it must be left untouched in case of "bigger emergencies in the future." If hurricanes and economic collapse are not big enough, what's left? The Rapture?
A four year freeze on public university tuition and a $10,000 degree: This has received some support from Democrats, who have been beating the drum about runaway tuition for years. However, there is a slight case of the Republican right arm not knowing what it's other right arm is doing: The draft House budget calls for four community college systems – Brazosport, Frank Phillips, Ranger and Odessa – to be completely defunded, while most four year institutions are already surviving on air and slashed staff rosters. Super-discounted degrees sound great, but the challenge would be to cut costs without cutting quality.
If ya gotta cut, cut the other guy: Again, no big change in policy, but now there are details. Even though both have earned the title "scandal-wracked," Perry wants full funding for the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Emerging Technology Fund (which, by sheer coincidence, are both run by his office. Whodda thunk?) He argued that Texas needs to keep all its "premiere economic development tools," but he did not name either the Major Events Trust Fund or the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program. However, he also has his target list: He wants the Department of Rural Affairs folded into the Department of Agriculture, and the Historical Commission and the Commission on the Arts completely suspended until the economy improves to his liking. Or the rapture comes, whichever is first.
So, in short, don't worry, because there is no budget shortfall, and even if there was, tort reform will save us.
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