Property tax appraisal caps, school vouchers may come up

Kelley Shannon, Associated Press

AUSTIN (AP) - When Gov. Rick Perry addresses the Legislature on Tuesday he's likely to propose getting more Texans on health insurance, securing the state's border with Mexico and much more.

The Republican governor has increasingly used the State of the State speech he gives to lawmakers every two years to set forth his agenda for the regular legislative session and to champion pet causes.

The Legislature's response has been mixed.

Lawmakers enacted about half of the wish list Perry laid out in his 2005 speech - his most jam-packed so far - according to a review by The Associated Press. And in 2001 and 2003, lawmakers embraced some, but not all, of his ideas for education, transportation, border programs, the state budget and other issues.

This year the stakes may be higher than usual, given Perry's status as a potential vice-presidential nominee in 2008.

For days, Perry has been hinting about what he'll bring up in his speech.

"We've got too many Texans who can't afford health insurance. We have too many employers that can't afford to offer health insurance to their employees. We've got a property appraisal system that threatens future tax relief," Perry said last week. "We've got a border that must be closed to those who would come and do harm to the citizens of this state and open to those who would seek a better life through an orderly and legal immigration process."

He's also expected to address economic development, criminal justice and public safety proposals, state budgeting reform and his cancer research initiative.

Perry's State of the State speeches have grown in the number of proposals he presents and in their specificity over his three previous legislative sessions as governor.

One reason is Perry wants the Legislature to be more upfront and specific in its budgeting, so he is trying to lead by example, said Robert Black, the governor's spokesman

And, even though the Texas governorship is a constitutionally weak position, Perry still must lead and set a direction, Black added.

"Being a chief executive of a state the size of Texas, the governor feels it is his responsibility to lead by setting an agenda," Black said.

All Texas governors use the State of the State speech to offer a blueprint for lawmakers to consider, said Reggie Bashur, a Republican political consultant.

"It's a big moment," he said. "It highlights the governor's goals and priority and agenda, and they usually are a significant part of what the Legislature will tackle during the session."

Bashur wrote two of the speeches for then-Gov. Bill Clements in 1987 and 1989. He also worked for President Bush when, as governor, he delivered his 1995 speech. That year, the newly elected Bush kept his address tightly focused on his four main campaign themes: education, lawsuit reform and changes to the juvenile justice and welfare systems.

Perry's approach is different.

In 2005, Perry laid out more than two dozen proposals covering public education, job creation, taxes and children's programs and social issues. Some were broad stands; others were pitches for particular programs, down to the dollar amount Perry wanted to see spent.

At least half of his suggestions passed the Legislature, either in the 2005 regular session or in subsequent special sessions on school funding. Others failed, experienced partial success or had unclear outcomes.

His push for a new school finance plan and property tax cuts failed to pass the 2005 regular session or two later specials sessions, but came to fruition in 2006 just before a Texas Supreme Court deadline.

The Legislature approved measures promoted by Perry in 2005 to limit asbestos lawsuits; reform the workers' compensation system; provide more money for Child Protective Services cases; restore dental, vision and mental health coverage to the Children's Health Insurance Program; and require minor girls to get parental consent before having an abortion.

Perry again asked for money for his job-creating Texas Enterprise Fund and said he wanted money for a new Emerging Technology Fund to help innovative businesses take root. He sought approximately $300 million for each.

Lawmakers ultimately approved $185 million for the enterprise fund and $200 million for the emerging technology fund.

Among his losing proposals were requests for lower property tax appraisal caps; full funding for the Irma Rangel Pharmacy School in Kingsville and the Texas Tech Medical School in El Paso; and private school vouchers.

Property tax appraisal caps and taxpayer-funded private school vouchers are themes for Perry once again. Look for him to address those on Tuesday, or as the 140-day legislative session moves along.