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The Hit List

Gov. Rick Perry isn’t backing down from his push for a “no-frills” approach to higher education. He wants students to move and be moved through the system quickly and efficiently. And if that wasn’t clear enough already, he underscored it with his veto pen.

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Gov. Rick Perry isn’t backing down from his push for a “no-frills” approach to higher education. He wants students to move and be moved through the system quickly and efficiently. And if that wasn’t clear enough already, he underscored it with his veto pen.

Perry nixed House Bill 992, a bill by state Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, that would ease some restrictions on students who transfer from community colleges to four-year institutions. 

Currently, students who exceed 30 semester credit hours beyond what it takes to receive a degree at a public university must begin paying out of state tuition. As it finally passed, Castro’s bill would have said that only community college credits that counted towards a degree would count toward that limit.

In his veto statement, Perry said the change “would encourage students to waste time and money, along with taxpayer dollars, and would prevent students and community colleges from being held accountable for responsible academic planning and advising.”

Others worry that the measure may prevent students who are finally succeeding on an academic path (practically a statistical anomaly for Texans in community college), from reaching the end goal of an undergraduate degree, effectively restricting access to degrees and hindering university productivity.

"It is irresponsible of the Governor to suggest that any member of this Legislature would want to encourage students to waste time and money, particularly when he has just forced through a state budget that cuts billions of dollars from public and higher education,” said Castro in a statement. “The last thing students and hard-working families want or need right now is to spend more money on their education."

Steven Johnson, a spokesman for the Texas Association of Community Colleges, said that his organization supported the bill and also supported the idea of improving “matriculation agreements and student advising,” as Perry recommended in his veto statement. “You can have the best of those in the world, and students still have life intervene,” Johnson said, noting that community college students tend to be older with more extracurricular responsibilities than traditional college-aged students.

Be that as it may, Perry’s veto pairs well with his efforts to push the state’s higher education toward increased efficiency. And the power of the veto is a strong way to drive that message home.

Of the 25 he issued on bills that came out of the regular session, the veto that got the most press was House Bill 242, which banned texting while driving. Perry described it as “a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults,” which is consistent with his repeated opposition to government intrusion.

"From my perspective, there will be blood on his hands," said Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo. "Every time that we hear about a tragedy related to distracted driving ... I hope that is forwarded to the Governor."

He also nixed sunset bills that are necessary to keep the Departments of Information Resources and Housing and Community Affairs going. He felt that the latter, among other things, added new layers of bureaucracy and relied too heavily on federal assistance. The former was read by many as a shot at Comptroller Susan Combs, whose office would have taken over DIR's procurement operations and other IT duties.

Perry weighed in on health care, vetoing HB 335, a bill that would have required state agencies to submit reports detailing the implementation and requirements of federal reform laws, calling the mandate unnecessary.

Another notable veto was that of House Bill 1616 because it included an amendment that allowed campaign finance filers to change their reports up to 14 days after a complaint is filed without penalty. The governor argued that "would inadvertently cripple the Texas Ethics Commission's authority to enforce compliance with state campaign finance laws."

The authors of the vetoed bills appeared to be split along party lines, including 11 Republicans and 14 Democrats.

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