Governor Rick Perry delivered his bi-annual State of the State address Wednesday, where he outlined his plan for the 79th Legislative Session. Unsurprisingly, the focus of his remarks was the reform of the state's education and education finance systems. While more money for Texas public schools is the needed, Perry said, fiscal responsibility is the key to improving education in the state. "How much money we spend on education is important, but not nearly as important as how the money is spent," said Perry. Legislators must turn around low performing schools and reward teachers if Texas is to create the premiere educational system in the nation, the governor added. To that end, Perry wants to create "turn-around teams" to help manage low-performing schools. He also wants to offer up to a $7,500 incentive bonus to teachers who choose to teach at a struggling school.
The second part of education finance reform, said Perry, is a necessary change in the property tax structure in Texas. Perry advocates lowering the limit that caps how much communities can raise appraisals from 10 percent per year to three percent. He also supports a broad-based business tax to recoup lost revenue from this change. Perry promised, however, not to increase the total tax burden on Texas taxpayers. "Some say it can't be done," said Perry, "But if we can avoid a tax hike in the face of a $10 billion short fall, we can do it again in times of surplus."
In his address, Perry also advocated a $300 million Emerging Enterprise Fund to nurture the state's bio-tech industry, an increase in money and employees to Adult and Child Protective Services, and restoring cuts made to the Children's Health Insurance Program.
Monday, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst joined with Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chair Senator John Whitmire to call for a change in the way the Houston Crime Lab does business. The lab has been under fire for sub-standard conditions and improper storage that may have affected evidence in a number of cases. Of particular concern were over 250 boxes of unopened, untested evidence found in the city's evidence room. "In Texas, we want to be tough on crime," said Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, "But to be tough on crime, we have to be fair and just, and I for one want us to bend over backwards to be sure that we don't convict ever an innocent person." Whitmire, along with Criminal Justice Vice-chair Tommy Williams, sent a letter to the Mayor of Houston, urging him to turn over management of the crime lab to the Texas Rangers.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, January 31st, at 1:30 P.M.