The faux pas bordered on sedition. The Texas Association of Dairymen sent blocks of mild cheddar to state senate offices “in appreciation for your hard work this legislative session on behalf of the people of Texas.” Legislative offices often get free—and perfectly legal—swag from special interests. The problem arose when someone read the label. The company that made the cheese was based in California.
California? Get a rope.This was such an offence against local sensitivities that a reporter called the dairymen for comment, which they declined. You might think this kerfuffle isn’t newsworthy, but the worst thing you can do these days is to compare the Great State of Texas to California. You might as well call Gov. Rick Perry a vegan.
The provincial chest beating by Perry over Texas’ superiority to California escalated this week when Pres. Barack Obama kicked off his “Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity” tour in Austin. Perry was polite to Obama on the tarmac but snide in a newspaper ad welcoming the president to town.
“Welcome to the Lone Star State, Mr. President,” said Perry in the ad. “Because your visit is focused on the economy, we’d like to show you how we’re creating jobs and opportunity in Texas. Here’s a handy checklist for you to take back to Washington.”
Obama’s Austin itinerary neatly encapsulated his education-first, collaborative economic philosophy. First he visited a school where lower-income minority kids have access to technology and seem to be succeeding. From there, Obama stumped for prosperity at a tech startup incubator and then at Applied Materials, the nation’s leading chip-manufacturing equipment maker that employs 2,500 people in Austin. Applied Materials is based in, you guessed it, California.
“We’re seeing people work together, not because of politics or because of some selfish reason but because folks understand when everyone’s working together, everyone does better, everyone succeeds,” Obama said at Manor New Technology High School.
Perry couldn’t let it go.
“He didn’t go to Detroit. He didn’t go to Chicago. He didn’t go to some of the cities in California that have been declared bankrupt. He came to Austin, Texas, and he came here because we are a success story. Whether you’re playing for the red team or you’re playing for the blue team, you like to hang out with a winner,” he said. “And Texas is a winner.” California, Perry seemed to imply, is a big loser.
Perry can accurately say that a third of all jobs created in the United States over the last decade were in Texas, but California saw a bigger increase in nonfarm job growth last year, 2.6% to 2.1%, according to the U.S. Dept. of labour. And Silicon Valley—where Perry went earlier this year to lure companies to Texas—is now creating jobs faster than any region in the country at a rate they haven’t seen since the dot com boom.
California has so many successful businesses for Perry to poach thanks to its enviable higher education system. Yes, the taxes are high, the regulations burdensome, and its state government only occasionally functional. But the California Institute of Technology, Stanford University, University of California at Berkeley and the other seven research universities churn out entrepreneurial geniuses faster than venture capitalists can fund them.
Texas only has three Tier 1 research universities, and one of them is Perry’s alma mater where he got a C in animal husbandry after growing up on a farm. So Perry’s reduced to bribing out-of-state businesses by offering low taxes, low regulations and—as often as not—cash payments that come at the expense of adequately funding our public school system. Of course the Texas Model works. You’d feel rich and popular, too, if you stopped funding your 401k and took your friends out to dinner instead.
Obama’s too circumspect to say so—and Perry might not be bright enough to realise it—but the Texas Model is mortgaging the future for today’s enviable job growth. Texas is squandering its economic lead by not investing in education. Perry would do well to spend our money creating new research universities to create a sustainable, broad-based prosperity rather wasting money to score cheap political points on cheesy newspaper ads.