Gov. Rick Perry declared Tuesday that there are "no sacred cows" in the strapped Texas budget, but he found a few hallowed programs that came close: the ones he uses to reward companies that expand or relocate to Texas.
Perry's advocacy for the economic development programs, called "corporate welfare" by his critics, stood in sharp contrast to the staggering cuts he is suggesting. The governor's budget proposal, released right after his "State of the State" speech to lawmakers, would slash billions from public schools and state-provided health care, prisons, environmental protection and regulatory agencies.
With all the proposed cutting going on, lawmakers might find it tempting to slice out Perry's favored programs. The governor said emphatically Tuesday that would be a mistake.
"If we pulled the plug on our economic development efforts, no one would be happier than my fellow governors," Perry said. "We owe it to our citizens to maintain our competitive edge."
Perry wants the Legislature to keep $150 million in the Texas Enterprise Fund and is proposing that lawmakers give $15 million to the Emerging Technology Fund. He also is proposing $20 million for the "film and video game incentive program" that tries to lure technology companies to Texas.
Perry, the longest serving governor in the country, also wants new money for a disaster contingency fund, an expanded "virtual school" network and new tax breaks for businesses. All told, including the Enterprise Fund request, Perry is proposing more than $500 million be spent on his initiatives and priorities, including business tax incentives costing $150 million.
The governor's speech and budget proposals come as the state faces a budget shortfall of at least $15 billion. Perry is opposed to new taxes, and his proposed cuts mirror reductions legislators are now contemplating.
Perry has long opposed using the "rainy day fund" set aside for fiscal emergencies, but he seemed to open the door to using at least a portion of it. He said he did not want lawmakers to "spend dry" the account, which is projected to have more than $9 billion in it by 2013.
"Emptying the savings account to pay for recurring expenses is a bad idea, whether it happens at home, the workforce or with our state budget," Perry said.
Perry is proposing savings of almost $500 million, including more than $200 million from the sale of land and other state assets. He would entirely eliminate funding to four agencies, including the Texas Historical Commission and the Texas Commission on the Arts, while consolidating dozens of others.
"There should be no sacred cows in this business, and that reality is reflected in the budget that I submitted this morning," Perry said.
It surprised no one that Perry ridiculed the "partisan commentators" and "doomsayers" who are reeling from initial budgetary proposals that experts say could lead to tens of thousands of teacher layoffs, school campus closures around the state and a drastically scaled back social safety net.
"The mainstream media and big government interest groups are doing their best to convince us that we're facing a budget Armageddon," Perry said. "Texans don't believe it, and they shouldn't because it's not true."
Democrats wasted no time criticizing Perry's downsized vision of state government, holding a press conference to blast him a few minutes after he walked off the podium in the Texas House of Representatives.
"The governor's speech was mostly a right-wing review of the state of the state," said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio. "It's clear that he's out of touch with Texans."