Updated, 5:11 p.m.:
HOUSTON — Gov. Rick Perry, with prominent conservative activists and Republican legislators at his side, jumped squarely back into Texas politics today with a call for more budget cuts and a vow to oppose any tax increases when the Legislature meets early next year.
Perry used Tax Day, when millions of Americans face a deadline to turn in their income tax returns, to unveil his “Texas Budget Compact.” He is asking politicians running for office this year to comply with its Tea Party-like tenets of smaller government and lower taxes.
Texas Democrats called the proposal “Rick Perry’s Shameful Compact” and said it would tie the hands of lawmakers at a time when schools are reeling from lower levels of funding and families have been hit hard by state budget cuts.
In the speech at New World Van Lines in Houston, Perry asked for state politicians to sign on to the compact, and Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said on the same stage that he would like to be the first legislator to attach his name to it.
In a prepared statement, Texans for Joe Straus said that the House speaker not only supports the principles of the compact, but has delivered results on them, "leading the House to balanced, no-new taxes budgets, preserving a strong Rainy Day fund and being one of the only legislators ever to lead efforts to abolish a tax once it had served its purpose." The statement added that Straus has a policy of not signing on to pledges.
Straus' opponent in the upcoming Republican primary, Matt Beebe, also expressed support for the compact, saying in a prepared statement: "I’m excited to see Governor Perry encouraging legislators to get serious about budget discipline, and by moving this initiative from concept to challenge during the primary season his leadership will help conservatives win in May.” Beebe said he would sign the pledge if asked.
After unveiling the compact, Perry told reporters that he would not be taking written promises or keeping up with who has signed it and who has not.
“I’m not going to have a pledge for anybody to sign,” Perry said. “People are either going to be for them or they’re not. There’s not a lot of gray area.” The governor told reporters that other groups might try keep track of written pledges, but he said "it won’t be coming out of my office or from me."
Perry is calling for an end to accounting tricks that have been used in the past to balance the budget, opposition to all tax increases, elimination of wasteful spending and agencies, restrictions on use of the so-called Rainy Day Fund and new restrictions on future government growth.
On the Rainy Day Fund issue, Perry wants the Legislature to use it only for one-time expenditures and not any ongoing programs. He also wants the Legislature to offer voters a constitutional amendment that limits spending growth in Texas to the level of increases in the population, plus an adjustment for inflation. Currently restrictions on spending are more generous.
“We want to be sure, constitutionally sure, Texas never turns into Washington, D.C.,” Perry said. The governor’s slap against Washington, and his portrayal of Texas as a beacon of conservative leadership, echoed the Rick Perry that Americans saw on the presidential campaign trail.
Jim Henson, a political scientist at the University of Texas at Austin and Texas Tribune pollster, said the compact is another signal that Perry will not slip away into irrelevance. Perry has said he is leaning toward running for re-election in 2014 and he is keeping his options wide open for another White House run.
“We knew he was going to be assertive. We knew he didn’t want to be irrelevant,” Henson said. “Anyone who thought that Rick Perry was just going to come back to Austin to ride out the rest of his term really didn’t know Rick Perry.”
Democrats reacted with swift derision to Perry’s proposal.
Party chairman Boyd Richie said Perry was a “hypocrite” for using accounting tricks in the past to balance the budget, including the last one, only to make it a call for action during an election year. He also said the compact, if enacted, would hurt the most vulnerable Texans.
“Real Texans don’t hurt seniors and children,” Richie said. “Perry is calling on his fellow Republicans to commit to permanently underfunding public education and human services. He’s leading Texas into a race for the bottom that jeopardizes the future of both our children and our parents.”
In his first major policy initiative since leaving the presidential campaign trail, Gov. Rick Perry will call on his fellow Texas politicians today to sign on to a pledge to cut spending, hold the line on taxes and adopt strict limits on how much government can expand in the future.
“We are approaching a 2013 legislative session that offers a very clear choice in the direction we’ll be going as a state in the years, and even decades to come,” Perry will say, according to remarks prepared for delivery.
The governor says the pledge would help “lead to a stronger Texas.”
“These principles represent a vow to the people of Texas, a pledge that each and every member of our Legislature, or anyone aspiring to become a member of our Legislature should sign on to,” he plans to say, according to excerpts of the prepared remarks.
The compact will call for “truth in budgeting,” another way of saying Perry wants to end the common practice of using accounting tricks — like delayed payments and sped-up tax collections — to balance the state budget.
He also wants legislators and would-be legislators to “oppose any and all new taxes or tax increases, preserve the Rainy Day Fund, and cut wasteful and redundant government programs and agencies.”
If Texas leaders commit to govern and budget by these principles, "we will ensure continued growth and prosperity, an honest budget and promote a more limited government,” the governor will say.
Perry told the Tribune last week that he wanted to circulate the pledge before the May 29 primary so candidates could discuss the initiative before voters go to the polls.
"I think we're at a unique time that we can reset the budgeting game in Texas," Perry said. "We could have well over half the House with one term or less, and maybe five new senators who are considerably more conservative. I've looked at the landscape. I'm going to be the senior statesman, so to speak. This is the time."
The initiative puts Perry back into the state's political arena after his bid for the GOP presidential nomination came to an inglorious end in South Carolina on Jan. 19.
It's too soon to gauge the interest in the pledge among Republican candidates for the Legislature, but Rep. Jessica Farrar of Houston, the leader of the House Democrats, blasted the idea.
"His proposal promotes more fiscal irresponsibility in asking lawmakers to blindly sign a blood oath that will result in a doubling down of the devastating cuts already made to public schools, colleges and universities," Farrar said. "Instead of planning for a better future, this plan ensures higher public costs through an uneducated workforce and treatment of chronic illnesses that could've been stemmed through preventative health care."
Ross Ramsey contributed to this report.
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