What was on January 20, 2001, less than exemplary news for the greater conservative nation was a change for the better in Lone Star State governance, as Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry rose via the process of orderly succession to succeed the newly minted President George W. Bush in the Texas executive mansion. What began by default procedural ascension has become one of the most consistently conservative tenures in recent American political history.
Arriving in Austin alongside the new Governor was a Texas Senate controlled by Republicans for the first time since Reconstruction. But, saddled with a wayward lieutenant governor in David Dewhurst, whose actions then and now indicate he wishes to be some sort of political hybrid of Arlen Specter and John McCain, and a still-Donkey dominated House, the 2001 legislative session was less than stellar in conservative execution.
Move forward to the Day at the Races in 2002, and the Texas Republican faithful removed the last hurdle to serious, fundamental change, making the House too an Elephantary voting ground.
And none too soon; the post-September 11, 2001, fiscal dearth descended upon Austin, and the legislators convened in 2003 facing a $10 billion budgetary shortfall.
Undaunted, and without complaint or pretext, Governor Perry pressed ahead and eliminated in toto the deficit, with nary a dime in taxes raised or incepted. He instead did what conservatives wish every level of government would do when facing issues concerning their coin.
He zeroed out the entire budget, and made each department and every individual seeking funding justify every dollar spent the previous period, and thereby re-validate their fiscal renewal, if not their very existence.
Gone was the practice of status quo budgeting, where the automatic assumption is every previous dollar was spent wisely and well (we will pause whilst you laugh uproariously…; we now continue) and that everyone and everything governmental will need at the very least that much, plus a bump for population growth and inflation, the next go-‘round. By so doing, Governor Perry eliminated many duplicitous programs and copious amounts of wasted coin in the myriad levels of Dante’s Lone Star bureaucratic hell.
Also dissipating into the legislative ether was the deficit that had once loomed so large over Austin’s city limits. After Governor Perry’s four month frugal charge up Texas’ Capitol Hill, the budget stood definitively in balance (and today is flush with an $8.6 billion surplus).
CONTAINED WITHIN THIS CONSERVATIVE monetary accomplishment were many of the little steps that are always necessary to make the Grand March to fiscal sanity.
The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) was one of the governmental “entitlements” most bloated by the late 1990s’ period of pronounced governmental inebriation. Stuck with the hangover from a party to which he was not invited, Governor Perry implemented simple reforms that drastically reduced the amount of rampant fraud and abuse at play in the plan.
He also oversaw the beginnings of the privatization of delivery of many social services, which not only made it easier for those availing themselves of Other People’s money to do so, it also substantially reduced the amount of money those Other People were forced to provide therefore (including another dramatic reduction in programmatic swindle, to the tune of $1.5 billion thus far).
Through it all, the Governor has maintained a tremendous pro-business clime, earning him Site Selection Magazine’s Governor’s Cup the last two years running as the man presiding over the most productive (in jobs and growth) and business tax-and-regulatory friendly state in the land.
Texas was also faced with a medical crisis (okay, two medical crises, one other than the waves of illegal aliens invading emergency rooms statewide by way of the Rio Grande). Too many lottery lawsuits against physicians had found jackpot pay dirt, and far too many practitioners had thusly left to ply their wares elsewhere.
So Governor Perry delivered Proposition 12, which limited (only) the punitive damages awarded in these sweepstake suits. Three years later, the number of doctors engaged in Texas medicine has increased sharply, and the costs incurred therefore have dropped precipitously. Oh, and one is far less likely to die awaiting treatment.
He followed that up with reform of the windfall insanity that is the asbestos tort claims process, ensconcing the heretofore non-existent requirement that one actually be ill as a result of asbestos before filing an asbestos assertion. He put in place a legislative blockade on lawsuits against the fast food industry for having the temerity to serve people the fare they order.