Gov. Perry sticks with finances, education, taxes in State of the State speech

Gov. Rick Perry addresses a joint session of the House and Senate for his 2013 State of the State speech on Jan. 29. After protestors interrupted the speech, Perry said, “I didn’t know there wouldbe that much excitement about tax relief.” Gov. Rick Perry addresses a joint session of the House and Senate for his 2013 State of the State speech on Jan. 29. After protestors interrupted the speech, Perry said, “I didn’t know there wouldbe that much excitement about tax relief.”[/caption]

Gov. Rick Perry addresses a joint session of the House and Senate for his 2013 State of the State speech on Jan. 29. After protestors interrupted the speech, Perry said, "I didn't know there wouldbe that much excitement about tax relief."

Gov. Rick Perry highlighted the state's financial strength, reiterated his opposition to expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, pushed for water and transportation projects, and called on lawmakers to return $1.8 billion to taxpayers in his biennial State of the State address Jan. 28.

In an upbeat speech devoid of social or immigration issues—some of the governor's favorite topics in the past—Perry said Texas was "stronger than ever" and should seize upon the opportunity to become even better.

He pointed to 1.4 million private-sector jobs created in the past decade, more than a dozen $10,000 degrees planned by universities and colleges throughout Texas to make a college degree more affordable for more students, and a high school graduation rate that ranks third in the country.

"The state of our state is stronger than ever," said Perry, speaking before a joint session of the Texas House and Senate. "We remain the nation's prime destination for employers and job seekers alike, and across the state—in classrooms, on assembly lines, in laboratories, on farms and in office buildings—hardworking Texans are today turning their dreams into realities. Big and small, dreams do become reality in Texas."

Unlike last session, Perry did not declare any emergency items for the session.

Shortly after the speech, Democrats answered that they would work to support the middle class, pointing out that in the past five years, the number of Texas jobs has dropped by 250,000.

They also took issue with the idea that the state was flush with money while some Texans are still struggling for health coverage and other basic services, and called on the Legislature to restore some $5 billion in cuts to school funding and educational programs that were made in the last session.

Rep. Mark Strama, D-District 50, and Sen. Kirk Watson, D-District 14, criticized the governor's comments regarding his unwillingness to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

"We have to continue talking about Medicaid expansion, and we can't take no for an answer," Watson said.

Among the major points of Perry's speech:

  • A constitutional amendment allowing the Legislature to return overpaid taxes to taxpayers

  • $1.8 billion in tax relief during the 2013–14 biennieum, the logistics of which were not announced but "there are plenty of good ideas, and that promises to be a very valuable conversation for us to engage in," Perry said.

  • A permanent small-business franchise tax exemption

  • Doing away with using dedicated funds for purposes other than their intended use

  • Stronger constitutional limit on spending

  • Investing $3.7 billion from the state's Rainy Day Fund for one-time investment in infrastructure projects

  • Creating more public charter schools

  • Targeting $1.3 billion in transportation funding for ongoing projects, paid for with transportation fees currently used for other projects

  • Creating "scholarship programs" for students who want to attend private schools, apparently similar to a voucher program

  • Instituting a four-year freeze on tuition for incoming freshmen at universities and colleges

  • Encouraging more fast-track degrees and tying a minimum of 10 percent of higher education funding to the number of degrees and certificates awarded


Read the text and highlights of Perry's 2013 State of the State speech here.

Reactions

"We aren't going to grow our economy, we aren't going to be able to continue to stand and tell rosy pictures about how well Texas is doing if we continue on the path that we're on today," Sen. Wendy Davis, D-District 10, said.

Rep. Patricia Harless, R-District 126, said she was glad to hear that Perry was willing to use the Rainy Day Fund for a one-time investment in transportation issues.

"That's an important part of his message," Harless said. "I think any funds going to construction to where we're actually building new roads has got to be helpful, because in the last budget cycle, we spent more money in debt service than we did in new construction. The way the budget looks this session, if we don't appropriate extra money for transportation, we won't have any new construction. So any money helps."

Rep. Donna Howard, D-District 48: "I am thankful that the Governor has thrown his weight behind the use of the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF) to address our state's water and transportation priorities. We must meet our critical infrastructure needs, but not at the exclusion of the state's additional obligations such as education and health care. That's why I have filed [House Bill] 652, which clarifies the original intent of the ESF and restates in statute that appropriations from the ESF are not counted against the state's spending cap. HB 652 ensures that we are utilizing all the tools available to the Legislature and embracing the common-sense solutions that Gov. Perry says are necessary for our continued prosperity in Texas."

"Gov. Rick Perry gave a great speech highlighting our improving economy, limiting spending and providing tax relief. We are excited to provide Texans additional support," Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-District 98, said.

Rep. Tony Dale, R-District 136: "It's a good example of all the really substantive issues that we face here in the state, talking about water, transportation, education. Those are going to be the themes that I think you'll see throughout the legislative session."