Rick Perry’s Texas Delusion

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the new Republican presidential frontrunner, touts the “Texas Miracle” as a model for the nation. But his vision of a free-market paradise, thriving without the nuisance of government spending, doesn’t match the reality, writes Michael Winship.

By Michael Winship

Although born and raised in a small town in the Finger Lakes region of New York, I’m the hybrid child of an upstate New York father and a mother from Texas — they met at Fort Hood (then Camp Hood) during World War II. And you thought different species couldn’t mate.

As a result, we were the only kids on the block who said, “Y’all,” or had relatives named Bubba, Vade, Hoyt and Cleburne. My mother’s father was known in our family as Granddaddy Lloyd. CARE packages of unshelled pecans and Frito-Lay products (then largely unknown above the Mason-Dixon Line) would arrive at Christmastime.

And among the books in our house was a buff-covered, dog-eared paperback titled Tall Tales of Texas.

I flipped through it over and over. Inside were wild and woolly stories of the outlaw Sam Bass; frontiersman and Texas Ranger Bigfoot Wallace; Davy Crockett at the Alamo. Even taller were tales of Pecos Bill, with his lasso made from a live rattlesnake, the toughest cowboy in the world; and his wife Slue-Foot Sue, riding down the Rio Grande on the back of a giant catfish.

So, courtesy of some Lone Star DNA and basic reading comprehension skills, I think I know a Texas tall tale when I hear one, and presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s tales of “the Texas miracle” are as tall as they come.

Between December 2000 and December 2010, the state did have a net gain of 907,000 jobs, more than half the 1.6 million new jobs nationwide during that same period. But a lot of the state’s success in job creation looks more like dumb luck than evidence of ole Pecos Perry’s political prowess or expertise in governance.

“It’s not that the emperor has no clothes,” Dan Hamermesh, an economics professor at the University of Texas, told the website AOL Jobs. “But he’s got little more than a fig leaf over his crotch. It is a true fact, but he had nothing to do with it.”

Perry points to deregulation and low taxes, including an incentive program called the Texas Enterprise Fund, said to have created 58,000 jobs, but there were many factors largely beyond his control, including increased trade between the United States and Mexico and the high price of gasoline that pumped revenue into the state, accompanied by new technologies for oil and gas extraction.

In the Aug. 15 New York Times, Clifford Krauss reported, “The oil and gas industry now delivers roughly $325 billion a year to the state, directly and indirectly. It brings in $13 billion in state tax receipts, or roughly 40 percent of the total, financing up to 20 percent of the state budget.”

What’s more, a lot of the increase has been funded — say it ain’t so, Pecos! — by federal largesse, including President Obama’s economic stimulus.

In the last ten years, federal spending in the state has more than doubled to over $200 billion a year (thanks in large part to NASA and the many military installations in the state, including the aforementioned Fort Hood, one of the world’s largest military bases and the biggest single employer in Texas).

Of all the U.S. government jobs added in this country between 2007 and 2010, 47 percent of them were in Texas.

According to Jared Bernstein, former economic adviser to Joe Biden, “Texas employment wasn’t down much at all in these years, as the state lost only 53,000 jobs. But looming behind that number are large losses in the private sector (down 178,000) and large gains (up 125,000) in government jobs.”

Which shows, Bernstein goes on, that Texas has followed “a traditional Keynesian game plan: as the private sector contracts, turn to the public sector to temporarily make up part of the difference.”

In 2009, Gov. Perry made a show of rejecting $556 million in federal funds for unemployment, saying there were too many strings attached. In fact, that money was equal to only two percent of the more than $20 billion in stimulus money Texas did accept, including cash used to cover 97 percent of the state budget’s shortfall for 2010, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

This, in spite of GOP attacks on the public sector, Perry’s claim that the stimulus was failed and misguided and the pledge in the announcement of his presidential candidacy that he would “work every day to make Washington, DC, as inconsequential in your lives as I can.”

As the Aug. 20 Washington Post noted, “The significant role of government in Texas’ relative prosperity stands in stark contrast to the ‘go-it-alone’ image cultivated by Perry, who credits a lack of government interference for fostering a business-friendly environment in Texas.”

For those like Gov. Perry who brag about being no-nonsense, freedom-loving cowpokes, it’s a delusion that goes all the way back to the early settlement of the American West.

As Patricia Nelson Limerick writes in her seminal history The Legacy of Conquest, “At any period in Western history, the rhetoric of Western independence was best taken with many grains of salt.”

Whether it was fighting Indians or gaining access to public grazing lands, the federal government has always been integral. “Nothing so undermines the Western claim to a tradition of independence,” she writes, “as this matter of federal support to Western development. …

“And yet humans have a well-established capacity to meet facts of life with disbelief. In a region where human interdependence has been self-evident, Westerners have woven a net of denial.” Sounds familiar.

Accompanying Gov. Perry’s denial is cronyism and patronage, both good ole boy-style and corporate (of the $102 million in campaign contributions raised for his gubernatorial races, Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote, half came “from just 204 sources,” and the Los Angeles Times reports, “Nearly half of those mega-donors received hefty business contracts, tax breaks or appointments under Perry.”)

So, too, with greed comes hubris and shortsightedness.

The Times’ Krauss reported, “Critics, among them Democrats … have long complained that the state’s economic health came at a steep price: a long-term hollowing out of its prospects because of deep cuts to education spending, low rates of investment in research and development, and a disparity in the job market that confines many blacks and Hispanics to minimum-wage jobs without health insurance.”

A report from the policy research and advocacy group Demos and the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities notes “27 percent of Texas workers lack health insurance compared to 17 percent nationally. The ranks of the uninsured have grown steadily as access to employer-sponsored health insurance has declined. …

“Fewer than half (48 percent) of the state’s workers have access to a retirement plan at work, a figure that has plummeted since reaching a high of 61 percent in 2000.”

Over the past 20 years, college costs in Texas have quadrupled, with the steepest jump occurring since tuition was deregulated by the state in 2003. Former first lady Barbara Bush observed in a February op-ed that the state ranks 49th in verbal SAT scores, 47th in literacy and 46th in average math SAT scores:

“We rank 36th in the nation in high school graduation rates. An estimated 3.8 million Texans do not have a high school diploma … the United Way estimates that the price tag for dropouts to Texas taxpayers in $9.6 billion every year.” But the state’s latest budget cut $4 billion from public schools.

A recent, four-part series on Perry’s Texas from a team at the Houston Chronicle reports, “After a decade of Perry-style frugality the Texas welcome mat is growing increasingly threadbare as the state struggles to accommodate a booming, young populace hoping to travel its roads, get educated in its schools, drink its water and access its health care system.

“During Perry’s tenure the state has postponed investment or turned to debt to finance crucial infrastructure needs, experts say.” The average urban Texan loses a week a year to traffic delays on the state’s “overburdened” highway system.

While Perry boasts of luring thousands of doctors to the state, “lawmakers this year cut $805 million from doctors serving Medicaid patients” and “postponed $4 billion in Medicaid costs for payment in the next payment cycle.” Texas is 48th out of 50 states in the number of physicians per 100,000 residents.

Perry doubts climate change is real, yet, “As Texas endures its most severe one-year drought in its history, state leaders have identified $53 billion in state investments needed to expand water capacity by 2060 but have not resolved how to pay for it. Unless Texas increases its water resources, experts say 83 percent of Texans will not have an adequate supply of water in times of drought.”

Perry issued a proclamation urging Texans to pray for rain.

With more bad news ahead, stagnant wages and an explosion in population and the labor force that now has unemployment advancing much faster that Perry’s touted job growth, “the Texas miracle” is heading into a ditch.

Which brings to mind another tall tale, the old joke about the Texan who says to an Eastern visitor, “Yessir, I can drive across my ranch all day and all night and still not get to the other end.” To which the visitor replies, “I know what you mean. I have a car like that, too.”

Michael Winship is senior writing fellow at Demos, president of the Writers Guild of America, East, and former senior writer of “Bill Moyers Journal” on PBS.

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10 comments on “Rick Perry’s Texas Delusion

  1. Carlin on said:

    There has been all this outcry about Obama’s birth certificate. When will somebody demand to know if Rick Perry has opposable thumbs? Hey, I never said anything about evolution. It’s just one of those things that’s “out there”. Somebody needs to explain to this moron that evolution is not a hypothesis. It’s a theory, and the next step after a theory is a Law of Nature. Where in the hell are all our cowardly scientists? Don’t they have the moral obligation to tell a moron like this that he doesn’t have the prerequisites to be Dog Catcher of Houston, let alone President? President? Vice President? My choice would be Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Dennis Kucinich. That’ll never happen, but some of those folks in Texas had better start thinking about what it will be like to work for minimum wage in CHINESE YEN! And, yes, that’s coming, because our population is more interested in Casey Anthony than the thousands of kids we’ve killed as collateral damage overseas. Good night and good luck.

  2. Agree with everything you said, Carlin. TX has a long history of short-changing education. This funny but tragic story was told to me as true (let the reader decide): About three decades ago, the TX state committee on funding for education took up the subject of appropriation for the huge Perry Castaneda Library at UT Austin. A Democrat of yesteryear, who would certainly be a Republican today, objected to any increase in funding. His rationale: “Hell, there’s more books in there now than a man can read in a life time.” Even if a tall tale, it is not off the mark. When one thinks about the poor quality of education in this country over all with the exception, perhaps, of New England, it is really sobering that TX is close to the bottom of the bottom. The reasons for that are far more complex than the discussions about money, teachers, charter schools, etc. But back to Perry, this guy doesn’t even give lip service to education, which is like cutting off TX’ future.

  3. David Hamilton on said:

    “Of all the U.S. government jobs added in this country between 2007 and 2010, 47 percent of them were in Texas.

    According to Jared Bernstein, former economic adviser to Joe Biden, ‘Texas employment wasn’t down much at all in these years, as the state lost only 53,000 jobs. But looming behind that number are large losses in the private sector (down 178,000) and large gains (up 125,000) in government jobs.’”

    You mean to tell me that this Perry fellow is saying that, in the last 4 years, he has created about half of all the new jobs in this country, yet the state actually lost 53,000 jobs? Do you mean that he is not talking about net jobs created, only “new” jobs and he hasn’t deducted “lost” jobs, when pitching his miracle? That businesses in Texas lost 178,000 jobs in this period? Why does everyone in the media act like, “well, yeah, he created all these jobs, but…”?

    If this data is correct, then “he” lost a bunch of jobs, and if it wasn’t for Keynesianism – in fact a huge dose of Keynesianism, the wildly disproportionate shifting of a lot of American army and NASA jobs to the state – he would be way down in the hundreds of thousands range of jobs lost, both in the “net” sense and in the private sense.

    That’s a bunch of double talk. That’s just too blatant. Somebody needs to confirm this information from Jared Bernstein. Here’s a start using all net jobs in a 3-year period:

    From Politifact, Bernstein seems to be correct, since Perry is using a misleading, down-in-the-dumps starting point of June, 2009, rather than a meaningful August, 2008 pre-recession peak, in order to show a “net” gain:

    “Cheryl Abbot, a Dallas-based economist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, initially advised by email that by the bureau’s count, Texas had 265,300 more jobs in April 2011 than in June 2009. Using the Dallas Fed’s equation, this suggests Texas accounted for about 54 percent of the nation’s net job growth over the period. Why the difference: The Dallas Fed checks the bureau’s monthly employment estimates against employers’ unemployment compensation tax filings once a quarter; the bureau only does so annually.

    Abbot said, though, she prefers to judge “recoveries thus far” by comparing specific state or U.S. current employment levels with their peak employment prior to the recession. Texas, she said, has nearly recovered all the jobs lost in the recession. Its nearly 10.6 million jobs as of April ran 0.9 percent below its August 2008 peak employment level of more than 10.6 million jobs. In contrast, Abbot said, the U.S. employment of 131 million in May 2011 fell 5 percent below the peak U.S. employment of nearly 138 million in January 2008.”

  4. Something else to consider: if Perry really ‘created’ all those jobs he is talking about, shouldn’t the state have a huge revenue increase in taxes? But TX has been billions in the hole and he ‘balanced’ the budget on the backs of public services and education. Perry is a good recruiter. He goes to CA and promises companies low taxes and even less regulation. It is a zero sum game. TX profits but at CA’s expense. TX may be pleased, but that ain’t gonna work on the national scene.

  5. Alexander Ingham on said:

    The article doesn’t mention Perry describing Social Security as a giant Ponzi scheme. Texans must be dumb to have elected this guy more than once.

  6. Of course the TX massas want to cut education- smart people won’t vote for them.

  7. Leonard on said:

    Texas is ranked 49th out of 50 states in the SAT’s. Need we say more.

    • Yeah, and TX taught the tests. What does that say? Perry does not realize he is cutting off TX’ future. Well, this is off the subject of Rick Perry’s job creation fraud but he surely knows about the sorry state of education in TX and does nothing about it; maybe he is proud of it. Sounds like George Wallace talking about all ‘dem pointy headed liberals.

  8. Joseph Park on said:

    The lowe education scores in TX are due to the overwhelming preponderance of the children of illegal aliens in their schools. Reading the other comments on this website highlights the obvious left-wiong bias of this site and its readers. I stumbled onto consortiumnews while sampling various news web sites and it will be my pleasure never to read it again.

    • I guess it’s a bit late to reply to this, but TX schools were scoring low way before the influx of illegal aliens. Besides a large percentage of those illegal alien kids drop out of school and would not influence the test scores. Now if your point were TX is like the rest of the South, i.e., not overly fond of education, and Perry cannot be blamed for the entire mess, you would be correct. However, he ain’t gonna dew nuttin ’bout it neithur.