Rick Perry’s Spending Record

In his run for the Republican nomination, Texas Governor Rick Perry is positioning himself as a staunch fiscal conservative. Does his spending record match his recent campaign language in favor of smaller government?

I awarded Mr. Perry grades of “B” in the last two Cato governor report cards. My analyses revealed a pretty good tax and spending record, but Perry certainly fell short of the reform-minded zeal shown by former “A” governor, Mark Sanford of South Carolina. Recent articles by Shikha Dalmia of Reason and Aman Batheja of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram suggest that Perry’s fiscal record is a mixed bag.

Let’s look at the numbers. Rick Perry came into office in December 2000, which was in the middle of Texas fiscal year 2001. Texas general fund spending has risen from $29 billion that first Perry year to $41 billion by fiscal 2011, which works out to an average annual increase of 3.5 percent. (Data from NASBO).

Dalmia and Batheja compare Perry’s spending increases to increases under prior governor George W. Bush. But a better comparison is Perry versus the average spending increases of governors in all the 50 states over the last decade.

Here is NASBO data showing increases in state general fund spending between fiscal 2001 and fiscal 2011:

  • Texas, Perry: $29 billion to $41 billion, a 41 percent increase.
  • Total of 50 states: $506 billion to $651 billion, a 29 percent increase.

However, the Texas population has grown faster than the U.S. population, so let’s put these figures on a per-capita basis.

  • Texas, Perry: $1,360 per capita to $1,598 per capita, an 18 percent increase.
  • Total of 50 states: $1,774 per capita to $2,091 per capita, an 18 percent increase.

Thus, Mr. Perry has been Mr. Average on state spending. Over the past decade, per capita state general fund spending rose the same amount in Texas as the nation as a whole.

Note that total Texas state spending has risen substantially faster than just the general fund part of the Texas budget over the last decade (see Figure 16 in here). However, governors have more control over the general fund part of their budgets, so that is probably the best measure of a governors’ spending performance. (Still, Mr. Perry might want to explain to primary voters why the overall Texas budget has grown so quickly).

In sum, Perry’s spending record appears rather centrist, but no one set of numbers can tell the whole fiscal story. Fiscal conservatives fear another big-spending Bush-style Republican winning the White House, so we should further probe the records of all the GOP hopefuls.