Perry & Texas, less than meets the eye

Texas Gov. Rick Perry appeared to be a strong contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. Conservatives pointed to his low-regulation, pro-business agenda for helping Texas weather the recession and quickly recover.

Unfortunately for the governor, his momentum stopped as soon as he entered the race and had to answer questions. Then came his description of Social Security as a Ponzi scheme; his vow to eliminate three federal agencies if elected, though he could only recall two of them; and his lumping together of NATO member and U.S. ally Turkey with the terrorist-supporting nations of Iran and Syria - to name a few gaffes.

If the experience was humbling, the impact appeared short lived on Gov. Perry. In Texas tradition, Gov. Perry showed no lack of bravado as he moseyed into Connecticut this week on a campaign to convince Connecticut business executives they would be better off in the Lone Star State. A particular target for Gov. Perry is the state's firearm industry, its leaders disgruntled that Connecticut passed a law expanding the state's prohibition on the sale of assault weapons after such a weapon was used in the massacre of children and their adult educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School. At least Gov. Perry had the good taste not to try to exploit the situation with a press conference in Newtown.

Just as Gov. Perry's capability to be a presidential candidate was oversold, so too is the Texas economic success. True, the state's economy continues to expand, 4.8 percent growth in 2012, second fastest among states, compared to Connecticut's GDP shrinking by 0.1 percent, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

But, as was the case with candidate Perry, begin asking questions and you get a different impression. Many of the jobs created are low paying. About 500,000 Texans earn the minimum wage of $7.25. About one in four Texans has no health insurance, compared with one in 10 in Connecticut. Nearly 60 percent of people with health insurance in Connecticut get it through their employer, compared with 45 percent in Texas.

About 27 percent of Texas children live in poverty, sixth highest rate in the country, while Connecticut has one of the lowest rates at 15 percent.

The Texas miracle is not working for many. Among its legacies are the expansion of the working poor and the gap between them and the affluent.

As for providing an educated workforce, both states need to improve. Connecticut ranks 20th with an 88.6 percent high school graduation rate, and fifth with its 36 percent college graduation rate. Texas ranks dead last with its 80.4 percent high school graduation number, 30th with a 26 percent college graduation rate. But while Connecticut under the Malloy administration is investing in public education reform despite its fiscal and economic struggles, Texas under Gov. Perry continues to cut state support for public education to serve its no-tax-increase, fiscal conservative agenda.

Yes, Texas businesses save because that state has fewer workplace and environmental regulations, but there is a trade off in reduced quality of life and fewer worker protections. Texas' reluctance to deal with worsening water shortages could impact long-term growth.

Even on taxes, it is no slam dunk. A July study by Ernst & Young concluded Connecticut's total effective business tax rate was actually lower than that of Texas.

This is not saying Connecticut does not face serious challenges. It does. Connecticut cannot sustain the continued growth in the cost of its government, particularly the pension and retiree health care costs driving it.

The failure to deal with structural budget problems creates a cycle of fiscal crises, budget gimmickry and tax increases that generate uncertainty and discourage private-sector investment and job growth. High energy costs depress manufacturing, though Gov. Malloy's natural gas-friendly energy plan should help.

Connecticut must do better, but Perry's Texas is not the model to follow.

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