Rick Perry Says Goodbye As the Legislature Begins Its Work

Jan 16, 2015

Agenda Texas is KUT's weekly report on the Texas Legislative session. Each week we'll take a deeper look into the policies being considered and explain what they could mean for you and your life. From transportation to education to the environment and everything in between.

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This week, lawmakers from across the state have returned to Austin for the 84th session of the Texas Legislature. The beginning marked the end, at least for now, of the two long political careers of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Gov. Rick Perry.

Dewhurst's emotional farewell speech came Tuesday, along with a Senate resolution honoring his 12 years at the helm of the Senate.

"And so by putting our focus on what is in the best interest of 27 million people, I think, certainly over the last 12 years, we've been able to make a difference, make this a little better, more opportunity," Dewhurst said. "And if there's a word that describes David Dewhurst, it's opportunity."

But, of course, it was the farewell speech by Governor Rick Perry that dominated the week's news. After 14 years in office, the Governor took a final bow before lawmakers. He spent nearly 30 minutes flashing his life before their eyes, from his hometown of Paint Creek, to the Texas Capitol, and all of his accomplishments along the way. But he also took time to ask for cooperation during the upcoming session. Not from the two parties, but from Republicans specifically.

"I believe we are at our best when we get beyond our differences and attempt to seek common ground," he said. "I speak to members of my own party, and ask that you do not place purity ahead of unity."

Perry's speech didn't include what's next for the soon-to-be former governor, though it's widely assumed he'll throw his hat in the ring for another presidential bid.

After the "oops" moment and other gaffes on the campaign trail in 2011, he was criticized for being not ready for prime time. So the Governor has spent the last year and a half visiting with a series of policy experts from across the country to learn all he can about national and foreign policy. When asked about another try at the White House, Perry says, if he's running, this time he'll be ready.

On Tuesday the Texas House surprised no one and reelected San Antonio Republican Joe Straus to his fourth term as Speaker of the House. There had been plenty of noise made by Tea Party activists and a small number of Representatives to elect Frisco Republican Scott Turner. They argued that Straus was insufficiently conservative.

Straus won with a final tally of 127 votes to Turner's 19.

Now that's he's officially back in the dais again, Straus wasted no time getting to work. The House released its first budget proposal Thursday. The bill would increase general revenue spending from $95 billion to $99 billion. A lot of money for sure, but Dick Lavine of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a progressive state policy think tank, says it’s not enough.

"We all know how fast the population of Texas is growing," Lavine said. "But the costs of providing services to all those people grows naturally too."

The center estimates that paying for current state services, while accounting for population and inflation, the budget should jump to $101 billion. Now it's just the first draft in a long process, so that number is expected grow, but it's not just population growth asking for money. Tax cuts will be a popular item too. Talmadge Heflin wrote the state budget in 2003. Now he works on budget policy for the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation.

"We believe the margins tax should go," Heflin said. "And if they have money left, they lower the sales tax.  But number one go with the margins tax."

The margins tax is just another name for the business tax, by the way.

There's also a final ruling on a school finance lawsuit coming down the road. That ruling is expected to cost the state several billion dollars.

Follow Ben Philpott on Twitter for more on state politics and policy: @BenPhilpottKUT.

Oh and thanks to the Vocal Majority for providing our closing music. They sang "Texas, Our Texas" in the Texas House on the first day of the legislative session.