Texas ‘Rainy Day Fund’ and stimulus money

UPDATE:  The amount of money that Gov. Perry is accepting is actually $15.3 billion, not $12 billion as I stated earlier.  This comes from the DMN’s Trailblazer’s blog.  Please note the change below.

Let’s talk federal stimulus money, shall we?  Vice President Joe “Flappy Gums” Biden (and yes, I just gave him that nickname…  let’s see if it sticks!) told reporters yesterday that “I’m at a bit of a loss as to the rationale,” as to why a governor would reject the stimulus money for unemployment.

This brings up something I’ve been wondering about lately.  Whatever your opinion about the federal stimulus money and if states should accept it or not, don’t you think there are a significant number of Texans who resent the governor stating how strong the Texas economy is?  Or how Texans don’t need any help, we’re doing just fine, thank you very much?  If you need a reminder of these comments, here’s one:

Perry touted Texas’ economy, relatively strong compared to the rest of the country, as proof that the federal government shouldn’t be telling him how to govern in an economic crisis.

“I would tell my friends in Washington that if they want a blueprint for how to get the economy back on track, look at Texas,” Perry said.

And of course any blind squirrel knows that “Washington” is Perry’s pet name for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, his potential opponent in the GOP race for governor.  So while he’s focusing on her and maneuvering to keep his job, there are Texans who need some help.  I know that standing up for principles is a good thing, but I wonder if this strategy goes against the populist narrative he’s trying to craft for himself.

But back to the money itself:  it was news to me that, while the $555 million for unemployment gets all the press, Texas is actually accepting $15.3 billion (that’s with a B!) in federal stimulus money.  According to Statesmen reporter Jason Embry:

[T]he Legislature would have had to dip into the Rainy Day Fund or make sizable cuts in state services were it not for $12 billion in stimulus dollars that went into the budget that lawmakers just finished. That money included $2.5 billion for Medicaid and $3.2 billion for public education.

Perry rejected a much smaller portion of the stimulus package — $555 million for expanded unemployment benefits.

Rewind to last week, as Gov. Perry touted the legislature’s ability to keep the Rainy Day Fund “untouched.” Keep an eye out for a mention of how they were able to do that (i.e. federal stimulus money):

The governor commended the Legislature for passing the biennial state budget with less than 1 percent growth in general revenue spending. The Legislature also left the state’s Rainy Day Fund intact, providing an expected balance of $9.1 billion to address future state needs.

“There are a lot of people in other states who are still dealing with record deficits and layoffs of employees, while here in Texas, we woke up this morning with a balanced budget and a Rainy Day fund that remains untouched,” Gov. Perry said.

Couldn’t find it?  Me neither.  The Pondering Penguin (which is a really solid site, by the way…  I just found it a few weeks ago) says what we’re all thinking about secession, tea parties and exploitation:

Governor Perry, further proving he doesn’t get the Tea Party idea, after all, joined in with Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina to have a “Tea Party 2.0” via teleconference. Both have received lots of press for standing firm on what stimulus money their states will and will not accept from the federal government. By conducting a phone conference, they both prove they are willing to seize the Tea Party idea and exploit it for their own uses.

So, to sum:  Texas has a balanced budget and the legislature did not have to dip into its Rainy Day Fund to make it so.  The state did, however, accept $12 billion in federal money, which was used to subsidize the state budget.  The $555 million could have helped Texans in need, but was rejected largely on symbolic grounds.  And finally, VP Joe Biden should worry about… whatever it is Vice Presidents do.

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