Texas governor unlikely small government champion

August 19, 2011

By Agnes T. Crane and Christopher Swann
The authors are Reuters Breakingviews columnists. The opinions expressed are their own.

Rick Perry, the latest U.S. presidential hopeful, has said he wants to make the federal government “inconsequential”. Yet as Texas governor he has presided over the creation of more government jobs per head of population than Washington. These and other new jobs have been good for Perry’s state. But their origin contradicts his small-government rhetoric.

Though Perry’s critics may argue the point, Texas has weathered the downturn better than many other states. But it turns out job creation in the public sector, not the private one, has made much of the difference. Since the beginning of the recession in December 2007 through June this year, the number of state and local public service jobs grew by 6.5 percent, according to government figures. The private sector, meanwhile, is still playing catch up with non-farm employment down about 0.6 percent.

In fact, state and local governments in Texas have been hiring like crazy since Perry took office at the end of 2000. The number of government jobs in the state, excluding federal ones, increased 20 percent from January 2001 through June 2011.

Sure, that’s in line with population growth. With 25 million people living in Texas, according to the 2010 U.S. census, the population is also up about a fifth from 2000. But Nevada’s population grew 35 percent over the same period, and its public sector employment increased by less — some 20 percent. And a 10 percent rise in the American population as a whole over the decade was accompanied by just a 2.9 percent increase in federal government jobs.

Nor did Perry inherit a small-government state and simply scale it up as the ranks of its residents swelled. State and local government jobs in Texas add up to 6.7 percent of the state’s population, little changed from a decade ago. Even back in 2001, California had fewer public employees per head. And it has cut its public workforce to 5.7 percent of the population from 6.2 percent a decade ago.

These numbers don’t indicate Perry is a closet big-government socialist. But they hint at the difficulty of shrinking the public sector, and they remove any clear connection between small government and whatever success Perry claims for his Texas tenure. That in turn underlines that neither employment nor economic performance in general can be boiled down to simplistic soundbites.

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Actually, these numbers DO indicate that Perry fits the Republican pattern. Republican presidents have run up obscene amounts of debt and hugely expanded the federal government, in direct negation of their campaign rhetoric. Perry too can be counted on to do the exact opposite of what he says.

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