When a governor has given five State of the State addresses, chances are that the sixth is going to sound pretty familiar. And so it did. What has changed over the eon that Perry has served as governor is not what he says, but how he says it. He has become a polished, national-stage-quality speaker. But that is all he is, and all he will ever be. The missing quality in Perry’s political persona is leadership. His speech was utterly devoid of it. Here he was, with everyone in the chamber waiting for guidance on how lawmakers should proceed during the critical four months ahead, and all he had to say was, “By any meaningful measure, the state of our state is strong.” (This just days after the Los Angeles Times pointed out, with barely contained glee, ” The Lone Star State is facing a budget gap of about $27 billion, putting it in the same league as California among states facing financial meltdowns.”) Platitudes rained. Some folks are painting a pretty grim picture…Have the doomsayers forgotten that Texas added more jobs in 2010 than any other state?…I’m confident our efforts will be found wise, prudent, and effective….According to Brookings, Texas has six of the nation’s 20 strongest performing Metro areas. When serious reflection was called for, Perry provided campaign rhetoric. I suppose one could reasonably ask, Would it be better if Perry were more engaged? Or worse? The bragging about the economy was particularly ill-advised. Everybody knows the truth now. We have a $27 billion budget hole and a permanent structural budget deficit that will be with us for a long time. Saying that the Illinois Legislature just raised taxes 66% doesn’t start to address any of our problems. As I said earlier, we have heard all of this before. (Perry’s poor speechwriters must be hard-pressed to come up with something new. How many times have we heard, “We reformed our legal system to cut down on frivolous lawsuits?”) Perry’s few substantive proposals seemed like afterthoughts. He called for moving the Department of Rural Affairs into the Department of Agriculture. Now that’s a bold idea that will save the state, oh, at least a few thousand bucks. He recycled his idea that high school students must be enrolled in school in order to get or keep a driver’s license. Is that really the best way to address the dropout rate? He offered a $1,500 tax incentive to employers who let their employees attend college — just what we need, a tax break during a revenue shortfall. A four-year tuition freeze will be popular with parents, but it amounts to an unfunded mandate on universities, as does his idea of a $10,000 bachelor’s degree. None of these proposals address the major public services the state provides–public and higher education, public health, transportation, law enforcement–in any positive way. And then it was on to the inevitable conclusion: the attacks on Washington, on an activist Environmental Protection Agency, on Obamacare, on “federal efforts to bribe us with our own tax dollars.” “Enough, enough. Stop it. In this chamber, we affirm the principle of state sovereignty. This state will push back.” To borrow a phrase: Enough, enough. Stop it.
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