Rick Perry's "Texas miracle" is a fantasy

The GOP presidential candidate's claims don't hold up

Rick Perry's "Texas miracle" is a fantasy
Jesse Lenz

In his quest for the presidency, Texas Gov. Rick Perry says three things: His state's economy is better than America's. Low taxes and small government are the reasons. He gets the credit.

Almost none of that is true.

The Texas economy isn't stronger than the national economy, and it may be fundamentally weaker. Poverty is increasing much faster in the state than it is across the country. Despite Perry's chief campaign message—that thanks to him, Texans have damn near too many jobs to go around—unemployment in the state isn't bucking any trends. In fact, it's at an all-time high.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry
Caleb Bryant Miller/Zuma Press
Texas Gov. Rick Perry
A Texas Tech science building carries Anita Perry's name, but her husband's plan would devastate the state's university research programs
Brian Cahn/Zuma Press
A Texas Tech science building carries Anita Perry's name, but her husband's plan would devastate the state's university research programs

Perry's narrative is attractive from afar but crumbling on close inspection. And its foundation is just as wobbly. When the Republican contenders (and the media covering them) talk about taxes, it's not a matter of if Texas's are low but how low they are—and whether Perry played any role in making them that way. But lost in that concession is the fact that Texas's taxes are not, on the whole, among the country's lowest. At best the state's in the middle of the pack in terms of the actual tax burden on its citizens, and it's actually more expensive than most in business taxes. He's right that it's a small-government state: lots and lots of small government.

As for that government-is-the-enemy card he keeps playing: Perry's personal political biography includes episodes of naked disdain for local prerogatives, leaning instead toward a top-down governance style that at times has alienated both farm folks and city dwellers, including some Republicans.

But critics who don't know Perry well, including those obsessing over his recent oratorical flubs, have said one thing about him that is not true, according to those who have faced him in battle: He's no lightweight. Enter the ring assuming that and you could wind up on the mat counting stars.

"When we see him govern, he's awful," says Jason Stanford, a campaign consultant who ran former Democratic state Congressman Chris Bell's unsuccessful race against Perry for governor in 2006. "But when we see him campaign, he is a genius."

   

YOU'VE SEEN IT BY NOW,on the campaign trail or at the debate podium: Perry cocking that cowboy smile and vowing to "get America back workin' again." He will do it by making Americans more like Texans, who are not, he says, "over-taxed, over-regulated, and over-litigated." In Washington he will force government to do what he claims he made it do in Austin: "get out of the way and let the private sector do what the private sector does."

It's a powerful 10-second pitch. Of course, smart, well-paid wonks employed by his opponents are working to create a good 10-second anti-Perry pitch. But the truth about Perry's "Texas miracle" can't easily be packaged in a sound bite.

At the heart of Perry's so-called miracle is his state's edge in job creation. He cites U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers to show that Texas added a million jobs during his 11-year tenure as governor of Texas, while the national economy shed 2.45 million jobs. On the surface it seems like a slam dunk.

But those numbers, heavily cherry-picked for effect, are where the wonks will go when the wonks get going. Perry's cheery picture ignores a darker storyline in which unemployment under his regime has increased much faster than the national rate. It's now at a 24-year high, putting Texas at mid-pack among the states.

Perry's favorite window in time is from June 2009 until now—"since the recession ended," if you believe it ever did. He keeps saying Texas produced 40 percent of all the new jobs in America during that period, and the BLS numbers back that up. What Perry doesn't say is that in that same time frame Texas unemployment ran up from 7.7 to 8.5 percent—the highest since the devastating 1987 Texas oil and gas bust—while the national unemployment rate dipped from 9.5 to 9.1.

How did Texas add jobs and suffer greater unemployment at the same time? By growing its population. During Perry's tenure, the state's population has grown at more than twice the national rate, the larger share of that growth coming from the birthrate—in other words, not only from folks flocking down to Texas for all those jobs Perry's allegedly making. New jobs in Texas have not kept up with new Texans.

Bernard Weinstein, an energy economist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and a consultant to national corporations and associations, says the Texas climate is more business-friendly than the national one, and he gives Perry credit for being "a good steward of Texas values." But even Weinstein balks at giving Perry credit for the state's economy. Much of Texas's good fortune, he says, derives from what the rest of the country has been doing for the last 50 years.

"Texas is in the middle of the country," Weinstein says. "That used to be a liability. Now it's an asset. As the population has moved west, as we have developed highways and air corridors and air conditioning, all of a sudden instead of being in the middle of nowhere we're in the center of everything."

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2 comments
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Brad Smith
Brad Smith

Well it makes me proud to be a Texas American when even the Yankees hate this good fer nuthin' lyin' cheatin' goat weenie as much as I do.

OfBuckleyandBeatles
OfBuckleyandBeatles

As a rational, intellectual Republican I was pleased to see the City Pages examine Rick Perry's supposed "Texas Miracle." However, I was saddened to see the reporter miss a couple of key facts that I'm more than happy to share.

First, jobs in Texas grew at the same rate under Perry that they did under Democrat governor Ann Richards. And they actually grew at a faster rate under George W. Bush - even when you factor in the recession.

Second, since 2000 public sector jobs in Texas grew at 19% while private sector jobs grew at only 9%.

Finally, between December 2007 and June 2011 private sector employment in Texas declined by 0.6% while public sector jobs grew by 6.4%.

Texas' population boom has created a demand for more public employees, especially teachers, and, as the City Pages report showed, education funding has been slashed, meaning many of those teachers will be getting laid off and thus increasing Texas' unemployment rate. A Perry presidency would be the worst thing for America, and this Republican is thankful the City Pages has contributed to the growing list of reasons to reject this man's candidacy.

 
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