Gov. Rick Perry warned Texas lawmakers Tuesday not to start making grand plans for the multibillion-dollar budget surplus and the growing Rainy Day Fund.
Addressing the state Senate on the opening day of the 2013 legislative session, Perry said special interest groups already are eyeing the excess cash as “the equivalent of ringing the dinner bell.”
“In the face of that kind of pressure, we have to remember that Monday’s revenue estimate is not a chance to spend freely but an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the very policies that made Texas economically strong,” the governor said. “It’s also a chance to put our fiscal house in order for years to come.”
Per tradition, the revenue estimate came a day before the Legislature convened for its regular, 140-day session. Comptroller Susan Combs estimated the state has $8.8 billion left over from the last two-year budget and said the emergency Rainy Day Fund — fattened with revenues from a booming oil patch — will grow to almost $12 billion by the end of the next one.
Without getting into many specifics, Perry said he opposed using money from the Rainy Day Fund for “ongoing expenses,” and called on the Legislature to resist “any and all new tax or tax increases.” He said he favored “tax relief,” too, though he didn’t elaborate.
Perry's remarks ignore some pressing issues for the state, said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston.
"It's a good political speech, but the bottom line is we need to put more money into public education and deal with the dropout rate," he said, adding, "There is not a state agency in this state that is being adequately funded."
Early into Perry's remarks, Whitmire stood up and requested assistance after someone had fainted in the chamber.
“Is there a doctor in the audience?” Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said, calling on two senator-doctors — Bob Deuell and Charles Schwertner — to assist her. The woman regained consciousness and was escorted off the floor. Afterward, Perry elicited laughter and applause when he quipped, “I have not had that kind of impact on anyone in a long time.”
Then he worked the episode right into his message of fiscal discipline: “When you talk about raising taxes on hard-working people in the state of Texas it causes some to swoon, it causes people to have very negative reactions,” he said.
Perry renewed his calls for a “fetal pain” bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. He also touted legislation requiring welfare recipients and Texans who get unemployment benefits to be screened for drug use.
In keeping with the light-hearted and ceremonial nature of the first day of the session, Perry began his speech by paying tribute to an old rival from the presidential campaign trail, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Perry told lawmakers that his son, Griffin, had presented Santorum with a sweater vest — which the senator had popularized on the 2013 campaign trail.
The vest sported the logo of Texas A&M, Perry’s alma mater.
“Wear it with pride, senator,” Perry said.
Later, in an interview with The Associated Press, Perry spoke candidly about his failed presidential campaign, saying, "I laid out my ideas, and they weren't acceptable." He also dismissed as "scuttlebutt" the notion that George P. Bush, nephew of former President George W. Bush, would possibly run against him should he choose to run for re-election as governor next year.
Perry, who has held open the possiblity that he would run again for president in 2016, was also asked by the AP if he thought former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney went too far to the right to appease the Tea Party. Quite the contrary, Perry answered.
"I would suggest to you that had he parroted more of their conservative, fiscal policies that he might have been better," Perry said.