by Ross Ramsey | Texas Tribune
Gov. Rick Perry will challenge the state's colleges and universities to offer a $10,000 bachelor's degree, including books, in his State of the State speech later this morning, according to sources familiar with some of the proposals.
Perry also wants lawmakers to consider outcome-based financial support for those schools, basing a substantial portion of their funding on the number of degrees they issue, with particular attention to degrees for at-risk students and for those in critical or essential areas of study.
In his sixth State of the State speech, the governor will be addressing a joint session of the Texas Senate and House and telling them how he sees the condition of the government he's led since 2000. The higher education proposals are part of a call for a streamlined and more efficient state budget; Perry will try to sell the state's fiscal troubles as an opportunity to reshape the government.
If the past is guide, he'll start with some nice words for his wife, Anita, for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus. He'll recognize some guests and might mention something in the news.
And then he'll start in on the state, on what's gone right, what has happened with some of his pet projects from years past (economic development is a perennial favorite), and then he'll touch on what have become his standard topics for this particular venue: public education, frivolous lawsuits, the Texas Enterprise and Emerging Technology Funds, the state budget and taxes, jobs and economic development, immigration and border security, and the federal government's reluctance to leave regulation and other matters to the states.
Expect the governor to talk about the budget (he'll release his proposal for state spending today), the economy, mushrooming health care expenses and to reiterate his pledge not to raise taxes. That's all in line with what he said during the campaign. He'll talk about public education, and about having losers of frivolous lawsuits pay for the winners' lawyers. Perry has been pushing the federal government to give states more control over Medicaid expenses, and Texas is in lawsuits with the feds over health care and environmental regulation. Those will probably make the cut. Funding for border security is one of the few things that eluded the knife in both the House and Senate budget proposals; Perry has said his own proposal will be similar to those, so expect to hear about money for the border.
Over the last decade, the governor has used this setting to make news, to announce new initiatives and to dwell on the state's general situation. A look back:
Perry's first State of the State found the state with a surplus, and the freshly minted governor came in with a wish list that included financial aid for college students, more money for public schools and teacher compensation, aggressive borrowing to build new roads and calls for more money for children's health insurance, for nursing homes and for child protective services. He wanted the state to "significantly" reduce pollution and included a line that could have come from a speech last week, saying, "Decisions affecting Texas' air quality should be made by Texans, and not federal bureaucrats." And he said he would welcome the use of DNA testing "in cases where it can prove claims of innocence, or provide further assurance of guilt."
The 2003 session found Texas lawmakers in something like the fix they're in now, staring down a budget shortfall with a big class of freshman lawmakers who had just finished promising voters there were no new taxes coming. Perry started by touting the accomplishments of the previous two years — underlined with the introduction of Toyota execs who had just announced plans to start building trucks in San Antonio. He jumped into the budget mess, saying the state government had grown faster than the state economy and setting the table for the budget cuts that would follow. Education, he said then, was his top priority. He said the budget should be transparent, and said it should be balanced without new taxes. And he had a list of cuts and other ideas he said totaled $9.5 billion: redirecting a telecommunications tax to education, deregulating tuition at state colleges and universities, making a change in gas taxes to net the state $300 million, giving Medicaid a close inspection to find savings and adopting a set of performance reviews suggested by then-Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn. He proposed creation of the Texas Enterprise Fund to promote economic development and said the state should only use the Rainy Day Fund for one-time expenses. He asked for more "tools" to help the state build transportation projects, and he called for caps on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits.
Two years later, he was crowing about the recovery, the TEF, the growth in jobs in the state and his Trans Texas Corridor, "with the private sector willing to expend $7.2 billion up front without asking for one dime in state money for construction." His education pitch was aimed at lowering the state's dropout rate and at doing better college prep in the state's public schools. He suggested salary incentives for teachers, turnaround teams for troubled schools, school choice and more charter schools. He proposed lowering school property taxes and replacing that with state funds, generated by a revised business franchise tax and said it could be done without a net tax increase. That became the subject of a 2006 special session, and the start of a so-called "structural deficit" because the tax didn't bring in the money needed to cover the costs of the property tax cut. That difference, according to the comptroller's office, amounts to about $10 billion every two years. Perry touted the TEF and proposed a new companion to it, the Emerging Technology Fund, to invest in cutting-edge ideas. He asked for full funding for a medical school in El Paso and a pharmacy school in Kingsville, called for an end to "frivolous asbestos lawsuits" and said he would sign legislation, if it passed, to require parental consent for minors seeking abortions.
The budget outlook was good again, with a surplus "larger than ever just four years removed from our largest shortfall ever." Perry had just won his second election to the office with 39 percent of the vote in a field with four well-known candidates. He proposed a "Healthier Texas" program that would pay up to $150 per individual for health insurance premiums, depending on family income. He asked for Washington's help reforming Medicaid. He proposed a $3 billion program to fight cancer and touted a vaccine against HPV — human papillomavirus — that he wanted parents to administer to the state's 12-year-old girls. He said the cancer program and an education endowment could be funded by selling the state lottery to the private sector for $14 billion. He talked about an epidemic of obesity for the first time, and asked for money for pre-kindergarten, for college financial aid and to address the state's shortage of nurses. He called for property appraisal reforms and said the state should refund some of its surplus to taxpayers. Perry asked for money for border security, for limited border fencing and for penalties against hiring undocumented workers. And he asked lawmakers to replenish the TEF and ETF to bring jobs to Texas.
Two years ago, the governor opened with the national economic downturn, which was starting to appear here. He played small ball in that address, talking more about legislation he'd like to see than about new initiatives from his office. He talked about Texas' relative strength, cautioned against using all of the money in the Rainy Day Fund, asked lawmakers to refill his two economic funds, and said he would support raising the small-business exemption in the state's under-performing franchise tax. He said, generally, that the state should invest in infrastructure and education and should freeze tuition for each student for four years at the rate they paid when they came in. He recommended spending more money on community colleges and job skills programs. He railed against "an increasingly activist EPA" and said it could hurt the state's energy sector. He asked lawmakers to pass an eminent domain bill (that's back this year) and to beef up border security. He called for an end to sanctuary cities in Texas, asked the Legislature to approve a voter ID bill and said the state should track the citizenship of people receiving state-funded services. He said he'd sign a sonogram bill and threw in his standard caution against using the Rainy Day Fund for anything but one-time expenses.
Much of that is on the plate again this year. Eminent domain, sonograms, voter ID and sanctuary cities are all on the governor's "emergency" list for immediate consideration by the Legislature. Along with the usual suspects — education, the budget, economic development — those will probably come up today, too.