AUSTIN — Governor Rick Perry spoke of Texas with suitable pomp and glowing terms at his inauguration on Jan. 18, and afterwards sat down to a barbecue meal served on the Capitol grounds for an estimated 14,000 well-wishers and officials.
San Antonio businessman Red McCombs saved the state some cash by sponsoring the catered meal, offered free of charge to those who reserved tickets online, via the inaugural committee’s web site.
Perry, who in his speech referred to the 21st century as “The Texas Century,” enters his third consecutive four-year term as governor. Perry moved from the role of lieutenant governor to governor in December 2000, when then-Gov. George W. Bush resigned to pursue the presidency.
Perry’s name turns up as a potential Republican candidate for president in 2012, but the governor has not signaled interest in seeking the presidency.
Proposed cuts command attention
One sentence out of Gov. Perry’s inaugural speech: “We must continue investing in our people, developing young minds, grooming and attracting the best and brightest in the fields of science and medicine, and giving individuals the tools and the freedom to prosper.”
Perry did infer in the same speech, however, that serious belt-tightening would be needed.
A day after Perry said those words on the south steps of the Capitol, the Legislative Budget Board offered up House Bill 1, the general appropriations bill for 2012-2013.
The 900-plus page state budget bill, as currently written, suggests cuts that could be made on a path to a balanced budget that would compensate for a $27 billion revenue shortfall.
Suggestions such as the cutting of about 10,000 public education jobs and four community colleges are noticed quickly. For example, Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, immediately called the proposed closure of his district’s Ranger College “the height of irresponsibility.”
And then, Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee and serves on the 10-member Legislative Budget Board, had this to say:
“I appreciate the concerns of my colleagues regarding the elimination of state funding for four community colleges. The points that have been raised are valid and deserve a full review. Over the coming days and months, other such concerns will be identified.
“As I said on the House floor, I am committed to thoroughly examining this and other issues to determine whether the priorities provided for in this initial budget proposal are appropriate, and ensuring that we protect essential services while staying true to our core missions. Through the process, we will make adjustments as determined necessary by this body.”
So, the budget bill truly is a starting point, and maybe lawmakers will find a way to keep education cuts to a minimum. After all, it’s been said many times and in many places by many state lawmakers and other top officials that education is the key to our state’s economic progress and future in general.
More added to Perry’s list of musts
The governor’s list of emergency items for the legislature to attend to this session is growing.
Gov. Perry last week said he wants a law passed that requires a sonogram of a woman’s embryo or fetus, so the image could be viewed before abortion procedures would ensue.
Other emergency items the governor has said he wants addressed: stricter voter identification requirements, a balanced state budget, and lawsuit reform. By lawsuit reform, a governor’s office news release said he means:
• Creating an early dismissal option for frivolous lawsuits;
• Ensuring victims of frivolous lawsuits do not bear the financial burden of defending themselves through the creation of a “loser pays” system;
• Ensuring new laws cannot create causes of action unless expressly established by the Legislature; and
• Setting up expedited trials and limited discovery for lawsuits with claims between $10,000 and $100,000.
State’s employment rate improves
Texas’ total nonfarm employment increased by 20,000 jobs in December, the Texas Workforce Commission announced Jan. 21.
Texas has gained 230,800 jobs since 2009, but today, the state’s unemployment rate remains at 8.3 percent.
In contrast, the U.S. Department of Labor tabulated the national unemployment rate at 9.4 percent for the month.
Currently, the Texas Workforce Commission estimates the number of Texans working at 12.2 million.