When did common sense leave conservatives? For most Texans, 2009 marks that year. And Rick Perry’s secession talk was not nearly the whole story.
Once, conservatives stood for common sense. Take Dwight Eisenhower—a common sense guy from Kansas. After World War II, President Eisenhower built the National Highway System. He sold it to Congress as a defense necessity—but his real goal was to put millions of American GIs back to work. Today, the national highway system is the most successful public works project in U.S. history.
What about the Rick Perry brand of conservatism? In 2009, let’s look at CHIP in Texas. CHIP is the Children’s Health Insurance Program, an extremely popular program across the state and country.
Around 1.5 million Texas children lack health insurance, making Texas ground zero of America’s crisis. Almost 90 percent of these children have at least one working parent. The average cost of employer-sponsored family health insurance in Texas is $1,000 dollars per month—a sum clearly out of reach for a growing number of families.
Texas can provide access to affordable coverage for these families by allowing them to purchase CHIP coverage for their children, paying a premium that increases as their income rises. For just $38 million in state funds, Rick Perry could cover 80,000 more children with 72 percent of the overall cost paid by the federal government.
So, what happened this session? On May 28, Rick Perry said bluntly “I would probably not be in favor of that expansion even if it came to my desk … That is not what I consider to be a piece of legislation that has the vast support of the people of the state of Texas.”
Then CHIP failed.
What about unemployment insurance?
As part of President Obama’s stimulus plan, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Texas was offered $555.7 million in federal funding to modernize our unemployment insurance (UI) system.
Why modernize? Modernizing will bring our UI system more into sync with today’s economy and workforce, as well as help us take greater advantage of the automating technology already available to process UI claims. Modernizing the UI system will also reduce demand on state-funded social services, such as CHIP and food stamps.
Further, accepting the federal funds would result in lowered taxes for Texas employers. Due to the historic economic downturn, the trust fund that pays out UI benefits is projected to reach zero this summer without an infusion of cash. If the balance falls that low, a deficit tax is levied on employers to bring the balance back up. If necessary to ensure benefits are paid to unemployed Texans, the state may also borrow funds from the federal government or issue bonds to replenish the trust fund.
The U.S. Federal Reserve in Dallas has forecast that the Texas economy will lose up to 300,000 jobs in 2009 From El Paso to Tyler, Texas families will need unemployment assistance to pay mortgages and afford groceries.
Despite this, Rick Perry chose to reject the $555 million of federal funding, stating that it “will also increase [employers’] tax burden for years to come.”
Perry’s statement was flat wrong. Bill Allaway, the head of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, a nonpartisan organization that represents small and large businesses, said Perry should “take the money and run.” He argued it’s better to give employers additional money during a recession than after one. Renowned Texas economist Ray Perryman agreed, stating that “we’re probably better off taking the money.”
Finally, to define his “no-one-right-of-Rick” brand, Perry vetoed H.B. 130, which would have enhanced quality full-day pre-kindergarten programs for Texas children, stating that “children could be more served by expanding an existing pre-kindergarten program rather than creating a new one.”
H.B. 130 would have also limited class sizes to 22 children, implemented an 11:1 child per staff ratio and required certified teachers to have an additional nine hours of class training. Districts would also have been required to report on and evaluate their pre-k programs for effectiveness and student performance, and use at least 20 percent of additional funds for community child care providers, such as Head Start and other nonprofit child care programs.
Establishing a pre-kindergarten program that would implement new quality standards is an essential program for Texas children to become more successful academically, especially for those children who come from low-income families and who have limited English speaking skills.
All session long, Rick Perry raced to the far right. His sole criteria for making decisions was whether it move him right of Kay Bailey Hutchison—not whether it was right for Texas.
In Texas, Perry’s conservatism now has a unique brand. An outlier among the 50 states, Rick Perry’s brand has finally separated conservatives from common sense.