In a half-hour speech to the Texas Legislature, Governor Perry touted the economic climate of Texas as the best in the nation.
He also announced three major initiatives for this session. The first is a plan to rebate unspent tax dollars from dedicated spending streams back to taxpayers.
“We’ve never bought into the notion that if you collect more, you need to spend more. And today I’m calling for a mechanism to be put into place so that when we do bring in more than we need, we’ll have the option of returning tax money directly to the people who paid it.”
Perry says the state could provide $1.8 billion in tax relief, a statement that earned him a standing ovation.
The governor released almost no details on how it would work, instead calling on Texans to submit their ideas on his website.
Perry also wants to dip into the state’s Rainy Day fund to the tune of $3.7 billion to address escalating demands on the state’s water supplies as well as transportation.
“Due to our economic success, this fund will soon have $12 billion in it, significantly more than the amount we need to meet those obligations. Now we need to maintain a strong Rainy Day fund. While we cannot and we will not raid that fund to meet ongoing expenses, we also shouldn’t accumulate billions more than is necessary.”
Finally, Perry addressed education. He says Texas should provide more options for students in low-performing schools by providing scholarships and increasing the number of charter schools.
The governor also wants to freeze college tuition rates for four years. And he says colleges should lose up to ten percent of their state funding if they don’t show improvements in graduation rates.
Perry made no mention of last session’s cuts to public education.
Brandon Rottinghaus is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Houston. He says Perry’s speech was a good mix of the politics of the chamber and the politics of the public.
Rottinghaus says that approach was most evident in his tax rebate challenge, which requires legislative rule changes, but
also calls for public input.
“I think that the governor’s intention is to allow the constituents to be able to inform the legislators and the governor as to what they’d like to see. It may be that there’s a sort of effect here where the Republican party may seem to be kind of too domineering in this process and instead of telling the people what they want, they may be more open to receiving ideas about how to make it better.”
Texas Democrats decried the governor’s speech, saying it’s hard to prove Texas is better than ever when the state has the highest number of uninsured people in the nation and lawmakers cut more than $5 billion from public education.