Gov. Rick Perry Speaks to Texas Association of Broadcasters
Thank you, Bob (Cohen, President). It is an honor to be with you today.
There is not a day that goes by that I am not reminded of the power and reach of television, I suppose that was especially true three years ago when my opponent spent about $50 million to put grainy black-and-white images of me in every Texan’s living room. Of course, the broadcast media can have a tremendously positive impact too, as it has on the lives of millions of Texans. Not only do you empower our citizens with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions, your efforts have helped make Texas a more responsible and more compassionate state. Few, if any, other industries can claim to do more for their local communities than broadcasters. In the past year alone, Texas television and radio stations have raised $46 million for local charities, more than $3 million for scholarships and civic causes, and dedicated thousands of hours of airtime to raising awareness of important issues through public service announcements.
One event I have been proud to be a part of in years past is the West Texas Rehab Telethon, which raises funds to help Texans recover from injuries and adjust to disabilities. That is just one example of how the broadcast media helps build a stronger social fabric. Of course, it doesn’t stop there. Emergency weather and hazard warnings save lives. The Amber Alert system that you helped establish has helped law enforcement close the net around child abductors. Many of us have even benefited from exposés on which restaurants have slime in the ice machine. But of the many needs you meet for our citizens, there is none greater than telling the people of Texas what happens each day. Broadcasters are a critical link between the people and their government, and help Texans hold their elected leaders accountable. This is a vital service that many of us in America take for granted, but I guarantee you, in other parts of the world where the free press is anything but free, that is a foreign concept.
Accountability is essential to our democracy. In my state of the state address, I laid out a vision that calls for greater accountability in government, specifically in education, protective services and property tax collection. One initiative that I believe is essential to government accountability is the creation of Inspector General positions at large state agencies. I believe we need an independent voice at large state agencies that is accountable not to the bureaucracy, but to independent boards or individual commissioners, and ultimately, to the people. The function performed by an independent inspector general is complimentary to, but distinctly different from, the service performed by the state auditor. As envisioned by statute, the State Auditors Office is largely composed of audit staff that review accounting practices, policies and procedures, and performs audits on a rotating schedule. This is an important function. At the same time, we need to do more to ensure ultimate accountability with taxpayer funds.
An inspector general will not only look to see if agency policies and procedures are followed, but whether those policies and procedures ensure an efficient delivery of services. An inspector general would lead a staff that includes program specialists, criminal investigators, lawyers and experts in specific subject areas. Inspectors general would have additional authority to subpoena documents in criminal investigations and coordinate with law enforcement to make sure that scam artists and crooks are brought to justice. And they would have the broad authority needed to launch thorough investigations and make sweeping changes to the structure and culture of an agency.
As an example of the difference an Inspector General can make in bringing greater accountability to government, I point to Brian Flood at the Health and Human Services Commission. His work has already resulted in a $5 million settlement from a dental clinic that engaged in fraudulent Medicaid billing practices, as well as the conviction of two individuals for Medicaid fraud, who, combined, were sentenced to a record 98 years in prison. I also called upon Inspector General Flood to oversee the investigations I ordered last year into child and adult protective services. The CPS investigation, which included a comprehensive review of case files, interviews with many caseworkers, and a detailed analysis of how much time investigators devote to administrative tasks in addition to work with families, revealed just how broken our safety net is for vulnerable children. But just as importantly, because of the level of detail involved, that investigation gave us tremendous insight into needed reforms that will change Texas for the better. Today we have a blueprint for reform that will drop investigator caseloads by 40 percent, increase the time investigators spend with children and families by 39 percent, and reduce time spent on paperwork by 58 percent. This reform plan will also improve salaries for CPS workers, improve case management through better utilization of technology, and dramatically change the structure of the agency so no investigator is distracted from the main mission: helping abused and neglected children. A sweeping reform plan often requires a sweeping investigation. And that’s exactly what we get from an inspector general.
The same kind of investigatory authority in place at the Texas Education Agency could help us track down allegations of test tampering at Texas schools. Hopefully, test tampering is more isolated than has been reported. An inspector general could get to the bottom of it in an efficient, independent manner. I think it is important to have strong, independent oversight at our agencies, especially those charged with expending large sums of money, such as the Texas Department of Transportation, the Texas Department of Insurance, the Texas Workforce Commission, and several more. We may find we have the best run agencies in the nation. At the same time, we may find areas where we can get more for Texans’ money. But the point is, we won’t know for sure until we try.
Let me conclude my comments on the one issue foremost on legislators’ minds, education reform. In fact, education reform is the subject of the day as leaders in the House announce their plans for increasing achievement at Texas school. I applaud Speaker Craddick, Chairman Grusendorf, and the leadership of the House for not only focusing on improving funding for our schools, but improving performance too. Their plan is a strong starting point because it devotes new resources to schools, improves teacher compensation, and focuses the debate on achievement. How much we spend on education is important. How we spend the money is most important.
I see this legislative session as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve education and improve young lives. Despite a decade of progress, and gains by students of every background, we still have an achievement gap in Texas schools that will be an opportunity gap when today’s students become tomorrow’s workers. Look at the statistics: Today we have 36,399 students trapped in failing schools. Last year 889,468 students failed at least one section of the TAKS. And two years ago 15,665 students dropped out. I want to dedicate new money to education in a way that draws the very best from our teachers and students, and that focuses our attention where it is needed most, in schools where we have large numbers of economically disadvantaged students, where graduation rates are low, and where too few children graduate prepared for college and success in life. I believe we should attract our best and brightest teachers to our hardest learning environments with salary stipends as high as $7,500 for teachers that help turn around schools with large numbers of economically disadvantaged students. We must also provide meaningful progress incentives for schools that serve mostly disadvantaged student populations. And if schools struggle educating children of limited means, I believe this state has an obligation to provide expert help in the form of school turn-around teams that can mentor teachers and review management practices.
As lawmakers convene for this 79th legislative session, we face great challenges, but not insurmountable ones. In fact, throughout my twenty years in public service I have never been more optimistic about our future. Part of my confidence stems from all the good news I keep seeing on the television about how far Texas has come in the past two years. We’ve turned a record budget shortfall into a revenue surplus in just two years, we were named the number one business climate in America, and on the biggest issues facing this session of the legislature, there is a growing consensus on the direction we need to move. When our work is done a few months from now, I look forward to watching and listening to your reports on how this legislature has changed Texas for the better.
Thank you. I would be happy to take your questions.
Governor's Initiatives »