There is a potentially large, negative political impact -- not for Perry, who won't be on the ballot next year and maybe never again -- but for a few Republican legislators who may find themselves with competitive Democratic challengers in 2008.
There are 50 community college districts throughout Texas, and most are still recovering, in one way or another, from state budget cuts imposed by the Legislature to bridge a multibillion-dollar revenue shortfall in 2003.
This veto, of course, wasn't the fault of any legislator. Perry struck the money because, he said, the two-year community colleges have been inflating the number of employees entitled to state-paid health benefits.
College officials have denied falsifying budget requests and say they will have to raise tuition, increase local property taxes or cut programs to make up for the vetoed funds, which amount to 8 percent of their state funding for the next two years.
The veto could play into the hands of Texas Democrats, who in recent years have been trying to paint Republicans as anti-education. Democrats already are attacking Republicans over the 2003 budget cuts, a tuition deregulation law that has sharply raised the costs of attending four-year, public universities, and a GOP priority on property tax cuts over increased education spending.
It also could be argued with only limited imagination in a campaign mailout that the veto represents a retreat from lower property taxes because it could force some community colleges to raise their local taxes.
Meanwhile, the Chron took the opportunity to pile on with this editorial.
After supporting full funding for Texas community colleges during the legislative session, Gov. Rick Perry shocked educators and lawmakers by vetoing $154 million earmarked for state-mandated health benefits for college employees. As a result, the institutions that provide the backbone of vocational and four-year university preparatory education face an unnecessary budgetary crisis.
Representatives of Houston-area community colleges met with the Chronicle's editorial board and painted a grim picture. The veto will cost the Houston Community College System $11 million. HCCS Chancellor Mary Spangler stated the college will be forced to cut spending this year by $5 million and another $5 million next year. At a time when Texas needs to increase the number of residents pursuing higher education, HCCS and other colleges might be forced to raise taxes, tuition and fees.
Perry claimed he was vetoing the funding because it violated state law prohibiting state dollars from being used for health benefits for locally paid staff, but the money was approved by the Legislature. Perry also blamed community college leaders for attempting to pad the amount of money they could justifiably claim from the state to cover employee health benefits, an allegation that North Harris Montgomery Community College Chancellor John E. Pickelman denied. Pickelman said that after the governor supported full funding for community colleges, "he vetoed his own message. What changes your mind in four and a half months?"
In a letter to the governor, 47 Democratic members of the Texas House stated, "Your ill-conceived veto is equivalent to a tax increase on middle-class Texans who are working hard to build better lives by obtaining a community or junior college education."
It is more than strange that an elected official who campaigned on a platform of cutting property taxes would cast a veto that is likely to result in the exact opposite. In an article justifying his veto, Perry noted that if community colleges are short on money, "they are empowered to raise taxes from the population they serve, not unlike a local hospital, school or utility district." Those who wind up shouldering higher tax bills will have no one to blame but the governor.