Did Perry Use Vetoes to Get Even?
Fri June 15, 2007 10:42 pm

I'm sure that all of Rick Perry's 49 vetoes were based upon substantive arguments and not personalities. Really and truly. But ... we all know that darkness and suspicion can sway the heart and infect the mind. Just in case some misguided souls might think that the governor would use his veto pen to send a message to members with whom he had run-ins this session, let's take a look at the bills he popped and see if there is any correlation with between the vetoes and certain events during the session that didn't go the governor's way.

Judith Zaffirini is the chair of Higher Education in the Senate. Most of Perry's higher ed program providing incentives for universities that improved their graduation rates died in her committee. Zaffirini is also one of the strongest advocates (and a frequent beneficiary) of appropriations to individual universities known as "special items." Perry opposes special items generally and has urged that these earmarks be placed in the budget in a manner in which each individual item is subject to a veto, something legislative budget writers and Zaffirini in particular has resisted. This is a longstanding controversy, and I am of two minds about it: Special items are pork, to be sure, but they are frequently good pork (such as the McDonald Observatory), and they are particularly important to smaller institutions, like Texas A&M International University in Zaffirini's home town of Laredo. Perry's veto message for the budget notes that for TAMIU, "special items represent 48.3 percent of its total general revenue budget, less tuition revenue bond debt service, compared to the university statewide average of 18.4 percent." Perhaps, then, it is no coincidence that Zaffirini suffered more vetoes than any member of the Legislature--five bills, to be exact, plus a $5 million special item for TAMIU.

Perry believes that the Trans-Texas Corridor will be his biggest legacy, and he doesn't appreciate lawmakers who mess with it. His transportation plan was messed with considerably this session. The most active messers were Senate Transportation chairman John Carona, Senate Finance chairman Steve Ogden, who included several riders in TxDOT's budget to provide more oversight of concession agreements with private companies, and Lois Kolkhorst, who won passage of a two-year moratorium on concession agreements for most rural areas. Perry vetoed two Kolkhorst bills, including one for which Ogden was the Senate sponsor, and one Carona bill. And, of course, Perry had previously vetoed the first "rein in TxDOT" bill, by Tommy Williams and Wayne Smith.

Another legislator who tangled with Perry this session was Dennis Bonnen, who passed the bill that nullified the governor's controversial executive order to require girls entering the sixth grade to be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus that can cause cervical cancer. Perry vetoed two Bonnen bills. One seemed particularly harmless: It called for an interim study of the environmental effects of electrical power generation.

Yet another battle between Perry and the Legislature occurred over the scandal-ridden Texas Youth Commission and how to reform it. The Legislature refused to grant Perry his request for a "czar" to run the agency. The three leaders of the investigation and the drive for reform--Juan Hinojosa, Jerry Madden, and John Whitmore--were hit with a total of seven vetoes (three for Whitmire, two for Hinojosa, two for Madden; one of the bills was jointly sponsored by Whitmire and Madden).

The final tally: Seventeen vetoes, more than one-third of the total, were used to kill bills that were authored or sponsored by twenty members who took positions on major issues that were unfriendly to Governor Perry. Purely coincidental, I'm sure.

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