By Corrie MacLaggan
AUSTIN, Texas Jan 29 Texas Governor Rick Perry
on Tuesday called for returning excess tax money to taxpayers
and tapping the state's rainy-day fund for water and
Perry, 62, the longest-serving governor in the nation at
just over 12 years, touted the success of Texas in creating jobs
and luring companies to the state.
The Republican called for changing the constitution of the
state, the nation's second most populous, to allow the return of
tax money to the people who paid it when the state brings in
more than needed.
"We've never bought into the notion that if you collect
more, you need to spend more," Perry said in his state of the
state address, which he delivered to a joint session of the
Texas House and Senate.
He also suggested providing at least $1.8 billion in "tax
relief." He did not offer details but invited taxpayers to
submit ideas online.
He said that to pay for water and transportation
infrastructure, $3.7 billion should be taken from the nearly $12
billion rainy-day fund.
Perry has urged lawmakers to resist pressure to spend money
freely despite a state forecast of a 12.4 percent increase in
revenue available for the 2014-2015 budget compared with the
previous two-year budget.
In 2011, lawmakers, facing a budget shortfall, made cuts to
education and healthcare. Democrats are calling for restoring
"I'm not sure what parallel universe Governor Perry is
living in," state Representative Naomi Gonzalez, an El Paso
Democrat, told reporters. "We are fortunate we have a surplus,
but how are we going to spend that money? Now, we heard from the
governor that he doesn't want to spend that money, that we're
fine, that everything's rosy."
Perry on Tuesday reiterated his stance that Texas will
neither expand the federal-state Medicaid health program for the
poor nor create a health insurance exchange, two key parts of
President Barack Obama's signature health law.
"Texas will not drive millions more into an unsustainable
system, a system that will drive this state into bankruptcy,"
Perry said. "And we have not changed and will not change our
position on that one iota."
State Senator Kirk Watson, an Austin Democrat, said it is
important to keep pushing for Medicaid expansion and not to take
"no" for an answer.
Perry boasted that other states have been taking cues from
Texas, citing Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's recent proposal
to do away with a state income tax (Texas has no state income
tax). Another neighbor, Oklahoma, has considered cutting taxes
to compete with Texas.
"If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, you all
should be flattered," Perry told lawmakers.
In Florida, Governor Rick Scott has challenged colleges to
offer a $10,000 bachelor's degree. Perry made a similar proposal
two years ago and said on Tuesday that 13 Texas universities
have announced plans for such a degree.
The universities can offer the cheaper degrees by relying on
web-based instruction, having students earn an associate's
degree while still in high school, or having students attend a
community college before transferring to the university.
Perry's speech did not focus on hot-button issues such as
immigration, guns or abortion. The governor, who opposes
abortion, has said that he supports banning late-term abortions,
a proposal based on controversial medical research suggesting
that a fetus feels pain starting at 20 weeks of gestation.
Perry, who a year ago dropped out of the race for the 2012
Republican presidential nomination, has said that he will wait
until after the legislative session is over at the end of May to
announce whether he will seek re-election as governor or try
again for the presidency.
Just 31 percent of Texas voters think Perry should run for
re-election, and 62 percent said it is time for him to step
down, according to a new poll on Tuesday from Public Policy
Polling, a Democratic polling firm. He is one of the most
unpopular governors in the country, with a 41 percent approval
rate among voters and 54 percent disapproving, the pollster