What Exactly Has Rick Perry Done?

by Reihan Salam

The Texas Observer, a left-of-center Austin-based newsmagazine, has an article by Dave Mann that raises a number of pretty reasonable-sounding points about Gov. Perry’s tenure. Mann describes Perry’s various major policy initiatives, and he finds them unimpressive:


First there was the Trans-Texas Corridor. Perry initially proposed this toll-road plan during the 2002 governor’s race. It would have used government’s eminent domain authority to seize rural farmland for a massive toll road project, complete with rail and utility lines. The backlash from rural Republicans was intense, and the plan died slowly over the next four legislative sessions.

This is an issue where I’d be inclined to give Perry the benefit of the doubt, as the project in question might have contributed mightily to regional economic development. But was Perry sufficiently respectful of private property rights and were the proposed financing mechanisms sound? 

In 2007, Perry proposed that all young girls receive the HPV vaccine. That idea suffered defeat even faster. Conservatives in the Legislature would have none of it.

Mann doesn’t even mention the fact that many public health advocates considered Perry’s decision to mandate Gardasil unwise, as the vaccine had only recently been deemed safe enough for widespread use. 

Then there’s the one major proposal that Perry passed into law—the business margins tax. This tax increase on business was crafted in 2006 as part of a school-finance reform. The idea was to cut property taxes and replace the lost revenue with a new business tax.

This 2006 tax “swap” was the one instance during Perry’s decade as governor when he proposed a wide-ranging plan and successfully pushed it through the Legislature mostly unchanged. It’s perhaps his signature legislative accomplishment.

Problem is, it’s been a disaster. Small businesses don’t like it. Some conservatives hate it—in fact, a few believe Perry’s business tax is unconstitutional. Worst of all, the tax doesn’t generate enough revenue. The tax swap has cost the state $5 billion a year for five years running. The Texas budget now faces an ongoing structural deficit because of the underperforming business tax.

It would be one thing if Perry had deliberately sought to sharply reduce revenue. But it seems that he made a massive miscalculation, which at least some critics had warned against at the time.

None of this is to say Perry has been ineffectual. He’s used his veto power (or the threat of it) to bend the Legislature to his wishes. And he’s utilized his power of appointment to build a web of political patronage that stretches across every entity in state government. He’s greatly expanded the influence of the once-weak Texas governorship.

But he’s not a policy guy. At times, it’s difficult to even glean a coherent ideology from him. Yes, he’s generally conservative; a times, he’s extremely conservative. But the details are tough to pin down. In fact, his three major proposals—pitching toll roads built with eminent domain, requiring a vaccine for an STD and passing a new tax that created a permanent budget deficit—aren’t exactly “conservative.”

I recommend reading the entire piece, which notes the resistance Perry has encountered from Texas conservatives. I fully expect to see a comprehensive rebuttal. 

The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.