Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The G.O.P. primary for governor between incumbent Rick Perry and U.S. Sen Kay Bailey Hutchison promises to be one of the most intriguing, expensive elections of 2010. The race also promises to be one the longest -- voters won't go to the polls for nearly a year, but already the two candidates are in campaign mode. The most recent source of disagreement: The stimulus.
Perry, like several other Republican governors, announced last month that he wouldn't accept some stimulus dollars to boost unemployment benefits. Without saying precisely what she would have done, Hutchison knocked him for that decision. Then, Perry fired back, as the Dallas Morning News reported:
"A leader would be taking time to look at all aspects and coming up with a better solution," she told reporters. "I would hope he is looking for innovative ways not to dock the taxpayers of Texas with $555 million turned down."
Perry defended his action and suggested the senator, a fellow Republican, stay out of state business.
"The last thing we want is Washington coming down here to Texas and telling us how to run our state," he said.
If Hutchison is claiming the mantle of stimulus defender, that's a tad ironic. She voted against the legislation in Congress. That Perry is presenting himself as a stimulus critic is equally misleading. He's accepting the vast majority of the money that Washington is offering.
Besides the irony, Hutchison's stand is, on its face, politically puzzling. Most Republicans don't like the stimulus. The easiest move for Hutchison would be to criticize Perry for all of the money he is accepting and to ignore the small amount of money he is rejecting.
However, the Austin American-Statesman helps clarify Hutchison's strategy:
The state's unemployment trust fund is projected to be $750 million below a required threshold next fall, which would trigger a tax increase on employers to replenish it.
A federal infusion would not make the trust fund whole or preclude the rate increase. But it would reduce the amount needed to bring it to the required level.
Apparently, Hutchison wants to blame Perry for a future tax increase that is connected to the financial strain on the state unemployment trust fund. That's a somewhat complicated case to make to voters, however. They have to understand that the stimulus links to the trust fund, which links to the business tax rate.
So, Perry may have the advantage here. If he's able to gain traction by criticizing Hutchison as too pro-stimulus, other Republicans running in competitive primaries in 2010 may begin to take notice.
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