Is Rick Perry 'America's Jobs Governor'?

Rick Perry Presidential candidate RepublicanThere's no more powerful political weapon in America than a record of generating jobs. And while that holds in any election year, it's especially true in an economic climate featuring over nine percent unemployment. Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) has just jumped into the 2012 presidential election with his state's jobs creation as the centerpiece of his campaign. Referring to himself as "America's jobs governor," Perry has begun releasing ads throughout Iowa that embrace an early slogan, "Time to Get America Working Again."

The Texas-sized talk is backed by statistical analysis: the state had a net gain of 907,000 jobs between December 2000 and December 2010. The entire payroll in the U.S. grew by 1.6 million jobs during that time, according to fact-checking project PolitiFact. And in his early ad, the claim is made that "more than 40 percent of the nation's net new jobs in the last two years" took place in his Texas.

But the swagger has raised the eyebrows of many a commentator.

"It's not that the emperor has no clothes," says Dan Hamermesh, an economics professor at the University of Texas at Austin, in an interview with AOL Jobs. "But he's got little more than a fig leaf over his crotch. It is a true fact, but he had nothing to do with it."

Much of the jobs growth, analysts say, can be chalked up to laws and regulations that precede Perry's tenure, which began in 2001 when he replaced George W. Bush. Texas is widely recognized for its low taxes and small government. In fact, raising taxes in Texas is considered so politically dangerous for state officials that in times of fiscal crises public officials resort "to frantic search[es] for users' fees - driver's licenses, hunting licenses, motor vehicle registrations, student services fees and more - that can be raised," according to the University of Texas.

"Texas is quite a low-regulation state. It's cheaper to do business here than quite a few other states," Mine Yucel, senior economist and vice president with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas said in an interview with ABC News.

That Texas became a beacon of business growth amid a country-wide recession was aided by its model of small government, which takes many forms in the Lone Star state. Perhaps most relevant to recent stability is a state rule banning large loans, which both preceded Perry and protected the state from the worst of the foreclosure crisis. It's also worth pointing out that the state governor's office is considered one of the weakest in the union, and is an exemplar of the so-called "weak governor system" utilized by many state governments. The model is so pronounced in Texas that the office is actually considered "the fifth most powerful statewide office, behind lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller and land commissioner but ahead of agriculture commissioner and railroad commissioner," as an article in The New York Times reports.

But the laissez faire environment has come at a cost. A state rule requiring the budget to be balanced every two years has led to cuts in education and public services at a similarly Texas-sized clip. The plan to cut $10 billion in spending on public education drew over 10,000 state residents to Austin in March, according to the Texas Tribune. Texas also has the highest rate of uninsured workers in the nation at 27.4 percent, according to research conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in conjunction with the State Health Access Data Assistance Center at the University of Minnesota.

"You can't have it both ways," says Hamermesh. "Will he take credit for the insurance?"

External economic factors beyond any officeholder's control have also provided an undeniable boost to Texas over the last decade. For one, the nation's woes at the gas pump are being credited for lifting the Texan economy. Just two years ago, in 2009, the average price of gas was $2.35 per gallon. That figure now stands at $3.60, providing additional revenue for the oil-producing state. "Energy probably provides around a quarter of the growth," says Hamermesh. "We simply have sectors that have been relatively immune to the crisis for the state, including agriculture and finance."

If there is any domain in which observers are comfortable tipping their hat to Perry it is over his encouragement of entrepreneurialism. In 2003, he spearheaded the creation of the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF). And the low-tax incentives program established by the TEF has helped generate 58,000 jobs, according to ABC News. Indeed, the state's drive to diversify its workforce into private sector categories including financial and technology services has also been lauded for helping spur the jobs growth. One other sector that commentators do directly credit Perry's leadership for is the result of welcoming 20,000 doctors to the state. The boost of Texan medical professionals is tied to Perry's 2003 law capping malpractice awards, which has drawn doctors from other states.

Critics who do take aim at the medical track record assert that prying doctors from other states is hardly a noteworthy record of jobs creation. But the American Association for Justice adds the uptick could have as much to do with the state's population growth, which other analysts note could be as large a factor in the overall jobs boom as anything else that has happened in Texas. As Paul Krugman points out, the state has been growing in population twice as fast as the rest of the country since 1990. Krugman also goes to great lengths to credit stimulus funds for the jobs boom, an argument that goes against the grain of Perry's anti-Obama narrative.

Of all the analysts chiming in on the so-called "Texas miracle," an overwhelming amount are more dubious than supportive of Perry's standing as "America's jobs governor." But those talking up the record include Jeffery Folks, of the conservative online magazine The American Thinker. Folks credits Perry for making Texas the nation's top exporting state over the last decade. And to counter critics who say larger energy trends can explain jobs growth, he raises the example of California.

"What California lacks is the kind of political leadership that will attract new business. Economic growth in California -- one can hardly call it 'growth' -- has been stagnant or worse over the past decade. In 2008-2009, GDP growth in the state was minus 2.2 percent," he writes. "Along with a stagnant economy comes high unemployment. In June 2011, the states' unemployment rate stood at 11.8 percent. That same month the unemployment rate in Texas was 8.2 percent, well below the national average of 9.2 percent." The level of state-wide unemployment lands Texas 26th in the nation on that front.

There are many examples of politicians seeking to take credit for economic growth that arguably took place for reasons unrelated to their leadership. When he ran for reelection in 1996, Bill Clinton was aided by the economic boom of the 1990s. As he spoke of "building a bridge to the 21st Century," commentators were already saying the boom was largely linked to tax hikes implemented by George H. W. Bush and the widespread advent of personal computers

The fortune of being in office during good times carries great political weight, irrespective of any economic analysis that casts doubt on the role of any individual politician.

"If he can convince people to ignore everything else, then it might work," says Hamermesh.

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