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Rick Perry’s Tall Texas Tales of Job Creation

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It was a busy time for hard-right politicians visiting the Bay Area this week. First, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul stepped into the lion’s den of Berkeley, where he flashed civil liberties cred by denouncing domestic spying before a University of California audience. He was followed by Texas Governor Rick Perry who, with tax breaks and other incentives, tried to coax some Silicon Valley nabobs into burnishing the “tech” in Texas by relocating there. Although these two Republicans are clearly limbering up for presidential runs in 2016, Perry’s visit got comparatively scant media coverage. One reason may be the perception that Paul, who recently won the Conservative Political Action Conference’s straw poll, is the man on horseback right now while Perry is, well, Rick Perry.

Another reason might be that Perry’s brief visit seemed like a follow-up house call from his widely covered 2013 grand tour, during which he attempted to poach jobs from six states (California, New York, Illinois, Missouri, Connecticut and Maryland) while publicly bashing the policies of their Democratic governors. Although Perry’s media persona has been both softened and sharpened since his cringe-worthy debate appearances in 2012, his current come-hither-to-Texas pitch repeated these claims from last year:

  • Taxes are lower in Texas.
  • Jobs are being created left and right.
  • Government won’t be on your back.
  • Everyone’s moving here.

The Perry Line about Texas “leadin’ the way” is being heard everywhere, from YouTube video ads to Jimmy Kimmel Live to Tea Party speakerphones like the John and Ken Show. Perry’s promise of rugged personal freedom and business opportunity even appears in place of Muzak when you’re placed on hold in calls to the governor’s Austin office. Delivered in his soothing drawl, Perry’s spiel makes for persuasive sound bites. His admirers speak of the “Texas Miracle” with the same fervor that Cold Warriors once described West Germany’s economic recovery. A corollary, promoted on conservative talk radio, is that Blue States represent a socialist nightmare in need of Texas-size deregulation and tort reform.

The problem is that none of it’s true in the sense that Perry and his Astroturf support group, Americans for Economic Freedom, would have us believe. Yet the message has been snowballing in acceptance and repetition in those parts of the media world that no longer employ fact checkers. However, since Perry first began luring companies to move to his arid state, there have been some notable debunking articles that rest on deep foundations of research.

In one recent deconstruction of Perry’s Lone Star fantasies, Washington Monthly senior editor Phillip Longman explodes the Edenic mythology that has transformed Texas into an Ayn Rand paradise. Among other things, Longman points out that:

  • While Texas has no income tax, it has steep sales and property taxes that severely punish the middle class and low-income workers.
  • Most small businesses in Texas “face total effective tax rates that are, by bottom-line measures, greater than those” in California.
  • Most of Texas’ job expansion comes from the oil boom – itself colossally bloated by a frenzy of hydraulic fracking.
  • When the number of people who have left Texas for California is compared to those moving in the opposite direction, the resulting net Texas gain is miniscule – less than 20,000 — and not the biblical migration Perry has been claiming.
  • Since the early 1980s, “Texas has . . . been falling behind many other states in its income per person.”

Of course, if Texas is, as Perry claims, luring so many jobs away from other states, that doesn’t make him a job creator – only a job thief. That he has been acting on behalf of private companies and not Texas citizens has been exposed by several sources. Last October the nonprofit Good Jobs First published a study, Who Is Funding Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s Partisan Job-Piracy Trips? Its researchers found that Perry’s business-poaching activities are supported by TexasOne – a nongovernmental entity which is, nevertheless, heavily funded by local Texas sales taxes, along with donations from several large corporations. And behind TexasOne stands the Texas Economic Development Corporation (TEDC), a nonprofit and, supposedly, apolitical corporation that, the study noted, “is sponsored by the state and controlled by Gov. Perry.”

When Perry came here in 2013, he pronounced, “Building a business is tough, but I hear building a business in California is next to impossible.” He basically said the same thing about the five other states he descended upon – throwing in deeply partisan rhetoric deriding “liberal” and “blue-state” policies.

Greg LeRoy, one of the authors of the Good Jobs First report, pointedly asked in a blog post why Perry’s itinerary last year only involved blue or purply states – even though several, such as Wisconsin and New Jersey, appear to have been perfect for a job-poacher in that they produce a large percentage of high-paying jobs ripe to be stolen. LeRoy implied that he knew the answer to why Perry passed on raiding at least one Midwestern state: Iowa, after all, holds the country’s first presidential caucuses.

(Rick Perry photo: Gage Skidmore)

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