August 17, 2011
Opinions, Texas, U.S.

The cowboy corporatist rides to the rescue

By: Timothy P. Carney | Senior Political Columnist, The Examiner, 17 August 2011

“I’m a pro-business governor – I don’t make any apologies about it,” Rick Perry told the crowds in Iowa this week. He’s right, but we can get more specific. Perry is pro-Merck, pro-Boeing, pro-Mesa Wind, pro-Texas Instruments, pro-Convergen, and pro-dozens of businesses that donate to his campaigns and hire his aides as lobbyists.

Perry promises to “get Americans back to work,” but his policies – from backroom drug company giveaways to green energy subsidies – eerily mirror the unseemly big business-big government collusion that has characterized President Obama’s presidency. Judging by his record in Texas, Perrynomics might just be low-tax Obamanomics.

Corporate welfare king Boeing provided a formative experience for Perry. Weeks after Perry took over the governorship in 2001, the jet maker announced it was moving its corporate headquarters out of Seattle and was considering Chicago, Denver and Dallas. Undoubtedly, Texas provided the best business environment: lower taxes, less regulation, better weather, less traffic. But Chicago won because Mayor Richard Daley and Gov. George Ryan offered Boeing $63 million in “incentives,” including a $1 million buyout to a tenant who was occupying Boeing’s preferred office space.

One problem: Texas’ slower legislative process prevented the state from making a counteroffer. Perry was determined to fix this inefficiency so he would never be out-corporate-welfared again.

In his next State of the State address, Perry pushed the Legislature to create the Texas Enterprise Fund, giving the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker the power to hand out multimillion-dollar grants to businesses seeking to relocate to or expand within the state. Two years later, Perry and the Legislature created another subsidy bank, called the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, using taxpayer money to invest in high-tech companies. Perry made government a venture capital fund.

Muckrakers at the Los Angeles Times and the Austin American Statesman have shown a strong correlation between Perry’s biggest campaign contributors and the money handled by these funds and Perry’s other public-private partnership. Almost half of Perry’s “mega-donors,” according to the Times, have received profitable favors from the Texas government. Poultry magnate Joe Sanderson, for instance, gave Perry’s campaign $165,000 and received $500,000 from the Texas Enterprise Fund to open a facility in Waco, the Times reports.

The Austin paper documents the unsavory case of $80,000 Perry donor David Nance winning a $4.5 million grant from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund. A regional board had denied the grant to Nance’s Convergen LifeSciences, but Perry intervened and ushered the grant through.

And just as President Obama uses renewable energy as an excuse for steering taxpayer money to big business, Perry also loves green corporate welfare. Perry was a featured speaker at the national wind lobby’s 2008 conference, where he touted his 2005 law requiring Texans to purchase wind and solar energy – all in the name of “job creation” and business growth. If you force people to buy a product, of course the businesses selling that product will grow.

Perry also shares Obama’s tendency to enrich drug companies, employing friendly revolving-door lobbyists. Perry’s little bit of pharma welfare was his 2007 executive order requiring all sixth-grade girls to be vaccinated for human papillomavirus, which can cause cervical cancer. Drugmaker Merck happened to have exclusive rights to the HPV vaccine, and Merck’s top lobbyist in Austin happened to be Perry’s former chief of staff, Mike Toomey. Also, Merck’s political action committee had cut a $6,000 check to Perry. The state Legislature reversed this executive overreach.

Mandating Merck’s vaccine, Gardasil, was an extraordinary step. When governments require school kids to get vaccinated, it’s typically against the types of disease that can be spread in the classroom. As conservative columnist Michelle Malkin puts it, “young girls and boys are simply not at an increased risk of contracting HPV in the classroom” the way they could pick up measles.

Perry’s actions as governor suggest that for him, “pro-business” means “corporatism.” His words are telling, too. While critiquing Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in his book “Fed Up,” Perry states that economic recovery came from “World War II, when FDR was finally persuaded to unleash private enterprise.” Is he talking about the Emergency Price Control Act of 1942, complete with its rationing? Or maybe FDR “unleashed private enterprise” through the War Production Board or the War Manpower Commission?

Or maybe Rick Perry simply conflates private enterprise with private profit.

After four years of bailouts, drug-lobby-crafted health care “reform,” corporate handouts in the name of “stimulus” and “green jobs,” and cash-for-clunkers boondoggles, does Perry really think what we need is more corporatism?

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