You have to say this about Governor Perry: He never goes off message, no matter how ridiculous that message may be.
Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday re-stated his opposition to legislation that would allow the state to accept federal stimulus dollars for expanded unemployment programs. A key part of Perry's argument is that once Texas expands the pool of people who are eligible for unemployment benefits, there will be no changing the program back to its current guidelines. (While the federal stimulus law says that states cannot insert a sunset provision that would automatically end the expanded benefits at a certain point, state legislatures can choose to revert back to the previous parameters of their programs).
"I've never seen anything generally done away with once it becomes law so I wouldn't think this one would be any different," Perry told a gaggle of reporters after a speech Wednesday.
I asked Perry about 2003, when lawmakers famously cut a number of programs in order to cope with a $10 billion budget shortfall.
"Ronald Reagan said that there's nothing more permanent than a temporary government program," Perry responded. "I think that is a very wise statement and I will stand by that. Cutting government programs that are put in place that are entitlements are almost impossible to change."
Is it almost impossible to cut a government program?
In 2001, the Legislature created a $1,000 stipend for teachers to pay for health insurance. In 2003, the Legislature cut it back to $500. And in 2006, it was rolled into teachers' salaries to help lawmakers and Perry inflate the size of a teacher pay raise.
Between 2003 and 2007, the Legislature cut the utility assistance program for low-income Texans from $150 million to $15 million.
The Legislature created the Children's Health Insurance Program in Texas in 1997. In 2003, the Legislature cut vision, dental and mental health benefits, while increasing the frequency with which families had to enroll.
Lawmakers cut payments to doctors seeing Medicaid and CHIP patients in 2003.
You get the idea. And Perry said when announcing that he would not accept the stimulus dollars, "Texas overcame a $10 billion deficit in 2003 because we decided to reduce government spending," Perry said in March.
Said House Democratic Leader Jim Dunnam, "The governor didn't have any difficulty repealing CHIP eligibility and throwing 250,000 children off of health insurance. Maybe he has amnesia."
In addition to being dishonest about unemployment insurance and the stimulus money, Perry is also a hypocrite as the Statesman points out. Yes, I know, I'm as shocked as you are.
Perry uses taxpayer money -- he asked for $260 million for the next two-year budget cycle -- from the [Texas Enterprise Fund] to attract businesses to Texas. A principal measure of success is how many jobs a new employer creates.
What's interesting here is that, as The Associated Press reported last week, companies that have received money from the fund are now allowed to count part-time workers in toting up the number of people they have hired.
But one of Perry's objections to accepting the federal stimulus money for unemployment compensation is that it would allow part-time workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own to receive prorated unemployment insurance benefits. A typical example is a spouse who works part-time because of children, loses her job and needs unemployment benefits until she can find another job.
So, it's fine by Perry to count part-time workers if it means helping an employer get public money, but if the employer lays off those part-timers in a recession, too bad for them. There are few better examples of the governor's high regard for business interests and lack of interest in ordinary people.