Gov. Rick Perry's Remarks to the 41st Legislative Conference – Texan of the Year Presentation
Thank you. It is great to be here today with a host of local elected officials, my friends in the Legislature, and the private citizens and private sector representatives who make this state the great place it is to live, work and dream. For me, it is honor enough to serve 23 million Texans, regardless of any recognition that one might bestow upon me. But that being said, I am grateful you have recognized me with this year’s award. But even more for recognizing the issues I have taken on, such as transportation, higher education funding and school finance reform.
Having been in politics for 22 years I have learned a couple of things. First of all, 22 years is a long time to be in politics. But secondly, and most importantly, you are not doing anything if you don’t make some people mad. Leadership is not about making everybody happy, it is about standing strong for something even when the wind currents start to blow pretty hard in your face. The way I see it, progress is not the outgrowth of passive play-calling, it is the process of careful planning, calculated risk-taking and occasionally throwing the long pass down the field. Having grown up in the country, I learned at a young age that fence-riders seldom get anything done, and after a while, that barb wire starts to hurt. It’s not that leaders shouldn’t listen to criticism. They should – when it is constructive rather than cynical. But nonetheless, the most critical quality of a leader is someone who never loses sight of a long-term vision.
My vision is to build a Texas of limitless opportunity and prosperity. And I view decisions I make through that prism. And I believe what makes a state vibrant are investments in classrooms and research labs; jobs and infrastructure; healthcare and emerging industries; and limited government, restrained spending and lower taxes. One of the ways to keep spending limited is to ensure fees are limited to their original purpose. The Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund is a good example. It was supposed to last ten years, but survived its termination date when we faced a $10 billion shortfall. Now we have a record surplus. And I believe, while we must use surplus funds to make targeted investments in education and healthcare, that doesn’t mean we have to spend every dime. And it doesn’t mean we should keep doing things the way they have always been done. We have $2.7 billion in accounting gimmicks contained in the state budget; one such measure is the continuation of the TIF. That’s why I applaud members of the House for eliminating this fee to save Texans more than $200 million a year. Its purpose having been fulfilled, it is time for it to no longer exist.
With a record surplus, now is the time to set the books straight and get right with the people. It’s about honesty in budgeting. Doing what we said we would do regardless of how tempting it might be to continue the gimmicks to increase spending. When it comes to tough issues, I don’t mind when critics disagree with my priorities. All I ask is that they meet the test of leadership which is to offer their own plans instead of simple platitudes. Let’s have an honest debate about transportation. Many legislators stood by my side in the last three sessions and took a bold step in authorizing private-public partnerships to build roads and get traffic moving. Now that criticism has escalated over toll roads, I simply ask everyone to think about the alternatives. It’s pretty simple: either we build toll roads, slow roads or no roads. Toll roads get built sooner because of private capital invested on the front end. The only way we could access as much money and build roads nearly as quickly is if we raise gas taxes by a staggering amount of anywhere from 75 cents to a dollar. Let’s just be honest: if you want the roads, either we pass record tax hikes or implement a user fee system like we have begun today that charges you as you use a road.
Now, if your position is that we don’t need the roads, then that’s a different argument. Some people believe in a fantasy field of dreams perspective that says, “if we don’t built it, they won’t come.” That’s what city planners in Austin hoped for 30 years ago. Now they have nightmare traffic and it is the largest city in America without a loop around it. There’s a reason local leaders in Dallas/Fort Worth are apoplectic over a proposed moratorium on toll roads: because for the first time ever, they control their own road-building destiny. That’s because we have returned regional transportation planning decisions to regional leaders. They know the roads are needed, and they know that can’t wait on Washington or Austin to deliver the needed revenue because they have already tried that for the better part of the last century. And now that they are finally getting projects started, some want to remove that authority. I would be pretty upset too. Let’s put this in perspective. One 26-mile road extension in Dallas/Fort Worth, Highway 121, brought in $2.1 billion up front from the winning private vendor. That’s what the state gas tax delivered for roads all across Texas last year. Think about that: the efficiency of one 26-mile private project yields as much money for additional roads as the entire gas tax.
Some have argued the state should build the roads. For the record, the state will still own every ounce of right-of-way purchased for toll roads. The difference is the private sector will risk their capital up front instead of waiting for gas tax dollars to build projects later. And these days that $2.1 billion in state gas tax revenues now only covers maintenance on the current system, and nothing for new roads. I don’t have a problem with the private sector building what the public sector cannot. Those who complain about foreign companies building roads make a sort of base political appeal that cheapens the debate. If that is the case, I missed their letters of protest over Toyota, Nokia, Ericsson and every other foreign-owned company that does business in Texas and employs thousands of Texas workers. We live in an interdependent, global economy. Those states and nations that recognize economies expand beyond borders and welcome free trade are the ones that will grow and prosper. Those that take an isolationist approach will only harm their own people. I don’t believe in slapping tariffs on foreign products or shunning foreign investment anymore than I do building walls on our foreign border.
The key to winning the global competition for jobs and prosperity is education. I proposed expanding financial aide by 60 percent because I want children of all backgrounds to find their place in this global competition. Education is the great social equalizer. My plan is simple: it makes a college degree more accessible; our institutions more accountable and performance-oriented; and it invests in classroom and research excellence. It does so with $1.7 billion in new money for financial aid and stimulating our state institutions to produce graduates in critical workforce fields faster, better, and with greater skills than they have done in the past. Time is running out. If we don’t produce qualified workers for the companies and industries that will dominate the global market place in the decades ahead, Texas will fall behind. According to a high-ranking federal official who calls Laredo her home, my higher education incentive initiative is the best reform plan in all the 50 states. We need to invest in human infrastructure as much as public infrastructure. Our children are our greatest resource. There is not an oil field in existence that won’t one day run dry; but human potential will never run dry as long as mankind roams the earth. Education is why I stand before you. I am part of the first generation in my family to go to college. If the son of tenant farmers can live the greatest dream possible – serving as your governor – then what will millions of young Texans achieve if they get the education they need? We won’t know until we try. And as long as I lead this state, we won’t fail for lack of effort.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless Texas.
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