No special session on education, Perry says
02/21/2012 11:45 PM
02/22/2012 12:25 AM
AUSTIN -- Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday firmly rebuffed calls for a special session of the Legislature to deal with education funding and kept his options open to seek another term as governor and to pursue another presidential bid in 2016.
In an interview with the Star-Telegram, Perry also waved off any interest in a vice-presidential nod or being appointed to a post in a Republican administration. "I can't think of anything that would blast me out of here," Perry said, "but I could give them some good names" of potential appointees.
Perry reflected on his failed presidential bid, touched briefly on his political future and looked ahead to the 2013 legislative session. The interview in Perry's second-floor executive office in the state Capitol was one of several the governor conducted Tuesday in his first extensive sit-downs with Texas news media since ending his national campaign Jan. 19.
"I was very hesitant to get into the presidential election, but when I got in, we were all in and the people of Iowa and New Hampshire didn't want me in," Perry said. "So I accept that. I proudly came back to the state of Texas and will continue to be engaged in making this place the most competitive state in the nation."
Perry, the state's longest-serving governor, entered the presidential race in mid-August on the strength of his job-creation record in Texas but faltered after poor debate performances and other setbacks. He came in fifth in Iowa, bypassed New Hampshire in the face of abysmal poll numbers and made a last-ditch effort in South Carolina before withdrawing two days before the primary.
Aides have said Perry is interested in another presidential bid as well as seeking re-election in 2014, and the governor didn't close the door to those options.
Asked whether he plans to take another shot at the presidential nomination in 2016, Perry said, "I'm not going to say no. I've learned a lot." But he also said it's "way too early" to contemplate that possibility.
"I'm not wasting too much of my brainpower and my time considering what I'm going to be doing in 2016," he said.
Similarly, Perry said he wouldn't begin taking a serious look at a re-election bid until June 2013, after the Legislature's regular session. Then, he said, he will "have a good conversation with family and friends and think about it, pray about it."
Democratic lawmakers are calling on the governor to convene a special session this year to ease pressure on school districts reeling from a $4 billion, two-year cut in state education funds mandated by the 2011 Legislature.
Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, renewed the request during a House Appropriations Committee hearing Tuesday to review the state's revenue picture.
'No special session'
But in the interview a few hours later, Perry declared: "No special session. We're not going to have a special session."
"I appreciate all of the legislators' input, but I would be stunned if there is an outcry from the people of this state or, for that matter, a majority of the members of the Legislature that want to come back in here and have a special session when I don't think we need one," Perry said.
Texas faces at least four lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the public school finance system.
Although state revenue forecasts are more robust than previously projected, lawmakers will face continued budget pressures in the 2013 Legislature, including paying for a $3.9 billion Medicaid shortfall left over from the last session.
Other immediate demands include $182.7 million to help the Texas Forest Service absorb the cost of fighting a record outbreak of wildfires last summer and $60 million for prison healthcare.
The budget challenges could intensify demands to tap into the state's rainy-day fund, which contains $6.1 billion and is expected to grow to at least $7.3 billion by the end of fiscal 2013.
Perry opposed requests to dip into the fund to avoid spending cuts in 2011, although he consented to a one-time drawdown of $3.2 billion to close a deficit that could have prevented the state from paying its bills.
Perry indicated that he would continue to resist efforts to withdraw rainy-day money. "If a case can be made for a one-time expenditure, then I'm certainly open to have the conversation," he said. "But not under any reasonable scenario that I can see would I be for spending rainy-day fund money on recurring expenses. You're just putting off the inevitable tax increase that you're going to have."
Perry repeatedly signaled that his priority is Texas and the upcoming session and said he will continue to press his long-standing agenda of limited government and fewer taxes.
"I don't see any reason to be changing course," Perry said, touting the state's record of economic growth and job creation. "We have a model that works."
Since re-engaging in his duties as governor, Perry said he has been conducting staff briefings and is "back doing what I do -- governing."
Friend of Newt
But he said he remains focused on election-year politics and is committed to helping former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whom he endorsed after pulling out of the presidential race.
Perry plans to travel to Arizona to be in Gingrich's corner for a debate tonight and will be in the "spin room" afterward to speak on Gingrich's behalf.
Although Gingrich has slumped in the face of a surge by former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Perry said he believes that the former Georgia congressman is "by far the most capable individual on the stage of the four."
"But with that said," Perry added, "any of the four will be substantially better than what we have in office today. On their worst day, they are multiples of times more capable of leading this country, economically, foreign policy-wise, militarily than President Obama."
Asked what he would do if he ever leaves the governor's office, Perry responded, "I have no idea. I try to eat healthy and stay physically fit so I can live a very long and productive life."
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