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The California view of Texas’ budget situation

I figure the folks at the LA Times enjoyed themselves writing this story.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry delights in telling tales of his California “hunting trips” — hunting for businesses ready to flee the Golden State.

But the latest budget projections out of Texas have sharply changed the discussion: 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. The gap amounts to roughly one-third of the state’s budget.

In a place where government is already lean, there aren’t many areas to make up that kind of cash. The budget blueprint Texas’ Legislature is mulling would mean layoffs for tens of thousands of teachers, closure of community colleges, and a severe reduction in state services for the poor and those with mental health problems.

Texas has a two-year budget cycle, which allowed it to camouflage its red ink last year, thanks in large part to billions of dollars in federal stimulus money. Now, however, “someone just turned the lights on in the bar, and the sexiest state doesn’t look so pretty anymore,” said California Treasurer Bill Lockyer, with evident satisfaction.

The scene in the statehouse in Austin in recent days would be familiar to those who frequent California’s Capitol. Throngs of advocates for the poor, the disabled and the elderly told ashen-faced lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee about the various horrors that would befall their clients if the state made its planned cuts.

Nursing homes, rural health clinics and counseling centers for at-risk youth would close, they warned. One advocate said that under the Legislature’s plan, her grandchildren in Louisiana would have a more secure safety net than Texas children. The unfavorable comparison to a state many Texans regard with disdain was delivered like a gut punch.

As if to punctuate the point that Texas has found itself in a California-style mess, a power-grid problem caused rolling blackouts statewide Wednesday as the Capitol was consumed with fiscal crisis.

“It’s going to be a tough time for us,” said Rep. Warren Chisum, a Republican from a rural Panhandle district that would be particularly hard hit by the education cuts. “I represent 19 counties. The school district is the biggest employer in every one of them.”

I don’t think I’d seen a quote from Chisum before now about the catastrophic effects we would see under the Pitts/Ogden budget. It’s not clear to me if he plans to do something positive about the potential decimation of his district’s largest employer, or if he’s just washing his hands before wielding the knife. For what it’s worth, by my calculation Chisum’s district preferred Rick Perry over Bill White by a 77-23 margin. One can quite reasonably argue that they’ll be getting the job losses they voted for.

Texas lags far behind California in major research universities, patents produced, high-tech infrastructure and venture capital investment, according to the Missouri-based Kauffman Foundation. The foundation’s 2010 ranking of states in “movement toward a global, innovation-based new economy” put California at No. 7. Texas was No. 18.

“Their model is a low-wage economy with greater income inequality,” said John Ellwood, a professor of public policy at UC Berkeley. “For all the talk of Texas being a high-tech state, they have never really caught up to California.… Look at the big new growth companies. Where is Facebook? Where is Google? Are any of these companies in Austin? No.”

Even Perry’s claims of companies that have decamped from California to lay down roots in Texas appear to be overblown. When the Austin American-Statesman looked into the Texas governor’s boast that there were 153 such companies in 2010, reporters found the claim included California firms that stayed put but maybe opened a Texas branch. The newspaper concluded that Perry’s figure was grossly inflated.

Perry’s staff said the governor was too busy to be interviewed in Austin last week. Media reports later revealed that he was on a five-day trip through California, which involved trying to coax companies east. His spokesman refused to name the companies.

Yes, as we have seen many times, the Governor’s first response when challenged is to run away and hide. Well, at least you can’t say he’s not governing like he campaigned. Here’s the Statesman story referenced above. Calling Perry’s statement “half true” seems generous to me.

When I read stories like this, in addition to wincing with every paragraph I continue to wonder where the idea that Perry is gearing up for a national campaign comes from. What exactly would he bring to the ticket as someone’s Vice President? He won’t get a “fresh face on the scene” honeymoon like Sarah Palin did. He’s been around forever, and there’s likely to be more stories like this written before anyone gets close to casting a vote. What’s his appeal to anyone who isn’t already voting Republican? Stories about how teachers got pay cuts but Perry’s appointees weren’t asked to won’t help broaden his appeal any, either. (Via) And don’t forget, Perry ran at least five points behind every other Republican on the statewide ballot last year. Greg Abbott got over 400,000 more votes than he did. In a more normal year, one that didn’t feature a million or so Republican voters that usually stay home in non-Presidential elections, he probably would have lost.

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4 Comments

  1. Peter Wang says:

    “Their model is a low-wage economy with greater income inequality,”

    This about says it all. Typical of regimes based on extraction of natural resources… Venezuela, Nigeria, Indonesia, etc.

  2. robert kane says:

    Someone will be writing an article about Houston too… How many times did we hear…”Houston is doing better than other large cities”.

    Houston is in a bigger mess than anyone is willing to admit.

  3. texaschick says:

    Why do Republicans hate woman and children? They love the fetus but hate the child it appears.

    House Republican Spending Cuts Target Programs For Children And Pregnant Women

    http://wonkroom.thinkprogress.org/2011/02/09/gop-war-on-babies/#

  4. […] the one hand, I feel terrible for these small, rural districts. As Warren Chisum pointed out, they are the largest employers in many West Texas towns. The cuts outlined in the […]

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