Posted on January 29, 2013 at 7:14 PM
Tuesday, Jan 29 at 7:22 PM
AUSTIN -- It was a speech full of praise for Texas' economic success.
"It is my pleasure to report that the state of our state is stronger than ever," Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) told a joint session of the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate Tuesday in his seventh State of the State address.
In his 45-minute speech, Perry attributed that strength to business and the previous legislature's conservative budget.
"The revenue estimate we got earlier this month confirms we made the right decisions at that time," said Perry.
With nearly $9 billion left unspent from last session, Perry proposed a constitutional amendment to allow some of that money to be returned to taxpayers.
"I think providing tax relief of at least $1.8 billion over this biennium is a good place to start," said Perry, who called upon Texas citizens to submit ideas how to further cut taxes to the governor's office.
Meeting with media afterwards, Texas Democrats argued for reversing major cuts to programs such as education and women's health.
"Democrats will work to protect the middle class by restoring basic necessities that have been stripped away from women, children and the elderly," said State Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin).
Perry was briefly interrupted by a protester angry over the governor's refusal to expand Medicaid. A dozen or so demonstrators were escorted from the gallery and continued to chant "expand Medicaid now" in the hallway outside the House chamber.
In his address, Perry reaffirmed his opposition to Medicaid expansion and state health insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act championed by President Obama.
"Texas will not drive millions more into an unsustainable system, gentlemen," Perry said.
The governor also highlighted water and infrastructure needs. After a bitter fight last session over whether the Economic Stabilization Fund (dubbed the rainy day fund) could be used to prevent billions of dollars from being cut from public education, Perry suggested the taboo of tapping the fund is over.
"I support a move to utilize $3.7 billion from the rainy day fund for a one time investment in infrastructure programs," said Perry.
"We had this conversation obviously last session that somehow the rainy day fund was sacred and could not be touched for the purposes of funding our students' needs," said State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth). "And now to talk about it in terms of funding infrastructure is quite interesting."
"We need to restore money to education, we need to restore money to health care," said State Rep. Naomi Gonzalez (D-El Paso). "Because the bottom line is we know education is an investment in our future."
Issues that were notably absent from the governor's speech were immigration, abortion and gun laws.
It was Perry's last such address, unless he decides to run for reelection in 2014, and Republican Party of Texas chairman Steve Munisteri suggested the speech could still have an audience beyond the pink dome.
"I certainly think it will be a speech that will be listened to by people outside of Texas," said Munisteri. "And I think it's a fair assessment to say that governor Perry is keeping his options open for 2016."
As for 2013, there's plenty still to do.