Gov. Perry says Texas remains strong during global economic crisis

AUSTIN, TX - In light of a bleak national economy that is beginning to impact Texas, Gov. Rick Perry today called on legislators in his State of the State address to stay the course with proven fiscal principles and policy initiatives that have made Texas the number one job creator in the nation.

"As shockwaves of this crisis begin to resonate in Texas, we're reminded that we're not immune to these forces, yet we're still in better shape than most other states," Gov. Perry said. "I credit our relatively strong economic condition to tough, principled decisions made in this building over the past three legislative sessions."

Despite a sobering revenue estimate, the governor said the state can still invest more money in important priorities that will help Texans weather the economic downturn.

"In tough times, others see threats; Texans see opportunity," Gov. Perry said. "The nationwide struggles are creating a buyer's market for economic development, so let's be bold and win even more jobs for Texans."

One of the major policy initiatives outlined in the governor's speech was the call to freeze college tuition for four years at the rate a student pays as an entering freshman.

"Let's work together to make college accessible and affordable for more qualified, motivated students than ever before," Gov. Perry said.  "Freezing a student's tuition rates will help families plan for the long term, and give students a powerful incentive to finish college in a timely manner."

In his address, Gov. Perry also recommended revisiting the business margins tax and looks forward to working with legislative leaders to consider changes like raising the small business exemption to $1 million in an effort to protect small businesses in Texas.

"With one collection cycle under our belts and plenty of feedback from the comptroller and business owners, we now know enough to improve it; the question is how," the governor said.  "Our guiding priority must be shrinking, not expanding, the burden on the small businesses that are the backbone of our economy."

Education remains a key priority for the state. Gov. Perry urged legislators to continue emphasizing student performance accountability, and funding of teacher incentive and dropout prevention programs like the Texas High School Project.

In setting the state's priorities, the governor asked legislators, "Will the decisions we make in this session ensure your children and grandchildren have the resources they need to thrive in Texas?"

To that end, he encouraged lawmakers to tap the Rainy Day Fund to pay for critical water needs outlined in the state's well-researched and locally-produced Water Plan, and to continue diversifying the state's energy sources.

Gov. Perry also emphasized the need to solidify Texans' private property rights through a Constitutional amendment limiting government's eminent domain authority to traditional public uses.

In outlining public safety needs, the governor said Texas must aggressively combat violent transnational gangs and establish a fund to help local communities prepare for and respond to disasters, such as hurricanes Ike and Dolly, which struck the state last year.

The governor also presented his proposed budget for the 2010-11 biennium, telling lawmakers he is adopting the budget proposed by the Legislative Budget Board as a starting point to meet the state's needs for the next two years.

"Writing the state's 2010-11 budget in this economic environment is the most significant challenge facing the 81st Texas Legislature," the governor said in his budget message. "I believe Texas is best served if the governor and the Legislature work together over the next 126 days to jointly craft a budget that reflects our principled commitments to this state. I look forward to working with lawmakers to finalize a responsible budget that keeps Texas a great place to live and work, and ensures we will weather the nation's financial crisis with the strength and vision characteristic of this great state."

The governor's proposed budget lists his policy priorities, including:

·    Replenishing the state's economic incentive funds with $260 million to the TEF and $203.5 million to the ETF - the state's most powerful tools for job creation and research and commercialization funding - and $60 million to the Texas Film Incentive Program, a growing economic resource for the state, which contributed $102.4 million to the state's economy in 2008.

·    Allocating $622.5 million to continue and expand teacher incentive and reward programs, including the District Award for Teacher Excellence and Texas Educator Excellence Grant programs. Those programs are designed to improve student performance and retain good teachers in critical subjects and hard-to-staff campuses.

·    Increasing funding for higher education incentives and funding for nursing education.

Increasing student financial aid with $110 million for the TEXAS Grant program; tripling funding for community college financial aid through the Texas Education Opportunity Grant; expanding the Skills Development Fund program to $60 million for the next biennium; and funding $10 million for the hospital-based nursing program that leverages partnerships between hospitals and academic institutions to graduate more nurses.

·    Protecting the safety and security of Texans by allocating $150 million for a disaster contingency fund, which would enable the state to quickly mobilize funding for essential needs prior to and following natural disasters, including assisting local communities in recovery efforts.

·    Improving border security with $135 million to continue the state-led border security strategy and to combat the growing threat of transnational gang activity across the state.

The governor acknowledged in his State of the State address that the economic situation may make negotiations difficult over the next 126 days.

"As we work on behalf of all Texans, we may disagree, and sometimes disagree vigorously, but when the day is done, we'll hammer out the details and we'll make things happen, Texas-style, by putting the people first."

For more information on the State of the State Address and Gov. Perry's budget and policy priorities, please visit: