Since moving into the governor’s mansion, Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) has governed his state with extreme right-wing priorities. His latest budget shortchanges school children with $2 billion in education-spending accounting tricks, while creating a special tax loophole for yacht owners. His refusal to raise taxes has resulted in a ballooning of the Texas state debt, which rose to over $34 billion in 2009.
On Friday, the Texas Tribune published a fascinating look back into Perry’s years as a Democratic state legislator. Before switching to the GOP to run for Agriculture Commissioner in 1990, Perry was a conservative Democrat in a state still dominated by the Democratic Party. Journalist Jay Root notes that at the time, Perry was a true fiscal conservative and supported the largest tax hike in Texas history in order to balance the budget:
But Mr. Perry cast some votes and took a few stands that seem to be at odds with his fiscal conservatism today. The most vivid example is his support of the $5.7 billion tax hike in 1987, signed by Gov. Bill Clements, a Republican, opposed by most Republican members. The bill passed the House by a 78-70 vote.
Even without adjusting for inflation, the legislation triggered the largest tax increase ever passed in modern Texas, said Dale Craymer, president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association. Today, taking inflation into account, it would be worth more than $11 billion.
The hike Perry supported under Gov. Clements raised the sales tax, taxed insurance premiums, and made permanent a five cents a gallon increase in the gas tax. In 2006, Perry also backed a substantial tax hike when he tripled the amount the Texas government collects for franchise taxes on business.
Perry’s prior support for such large tax hikes speaks to how far politics have changed in the Lone Star State. Not only was the tax passed by a Republican governor, but it was voted into place by someone like Perry, who now touts his soak-the-poor but protect-the-rich budgeting as one of his most cherished beliefs. Unfortunately, corporate lobbyists posing as principled conservatives, like Grover Norquist, have changed the dynamics within the Republican Party and have ensured that politicians like Perry must radicalize their positions on tax policy if they want to succeed.