Governor Rick Perry gave his State of the State speech Tuesday. For the first time in more than four years he's offering to open up the state check book.
The Governor's ideas of tax relief along with rebuilding roads and water systems didn't exactly blow the top off the capitol dome, but there was some drama and excitement. About mid-way through his speech -- Governor Perry was interrupted by an outburst from several people in the House Chamber balcony. Supporters of the Governor drowned out the shouting with a standing ovation for Perry who at the time was talking about a tax reform plan he wanted lawmakers to consider.
"I didn't know there would be that much excitement about tax relief," the Governor joked.
The protestors were upset that the Governor continues to refuse to expand the Medicaid program. Troopers quickly ushered the group out of the chamber, where they continued to shout, "Expand Medicaid now."
One of the protesters, James Caldwell from Houston, was handcuffed and escorted out of the Capitol by a state trooper; he declined to comment about being detained.
While Caldwell was charged with disrupting a meeting, which is a misdemeanor, Governor Perry was being accused of playing politics.
"The State of our State is stronger than ever," declared Governor Perry.
The Governor remained true to form during his traditional speech before members of the Texas legislature.
"You have realized a simple truth that bureaucracy doesn't stimulate the economy it just gets in the way," said Governor Perry.
The usual defiant conservative tone by Perry was tempered by a pitch to amend the state Constitution. He wants to send out refund checks when revenues exceed budget expenditures.
"Today, I'm calling for a mechanism to be put in place so when we do bring in more than we need, we'll have the option of returning tax money directly to the people who paid it," said Governor Perry.
It's unclear if the Governor's plan would take the form of a property tax rebate or involve some other type of refund. About 60 percent of state revenues come from sales tax.
Texas Democratic Party leaders say they were encouraged when the Governor said he is willing to tap into the Rainy Day fund to build water and road infrastructure. About $3 billion. But over all they described what they heard as nothing more than a nice political speech.
"It is time for some to stop being both the victim and the perpetrator," said Senator Kirk Watson (D) Austin.
Democrats challenged the Republican leadership to move beyond campaign rhetoric.
"We have dug a deep hole when it comes to using budget gimmicks," said Watson.
The Governor's education reform idea of creating a scholarship for choice program was called out as nothing more than a relabeling of the controversial school voucher idea.
"We saw it happen with our prison systems, saw that gone privatized, and now I'm going to see our education system if certain people have their way, become all privatized and then the public school system will be left at the core of individuals who cannot afford an education," said State Rep. Joe Deshotel (D) Port Arthur.
Democrats are curious to see if Perry is in the mood for compromise as the session closes out the month of January. But his speech could also be a low key approach to launching a re-election bid or another campaign on the national stage.
If Governor Perry is looking to extend his political career, a new poll indicates he has a lot of work to do. Public Policy Polling surveyed 500 people and found that only 31% of voters think Perry should seek reelection next year, compared to 62% who think it's time for him to step aside. Based on the poll, he's among the most unpopular governors in the country, with 41% approval rating. That could open the door for a challenged like attorney general Greg Abbott who trails Perry in the poll by a narrow margin of 38% to 41%.