Does Rick Perry Have a Jobs Problem?

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If Rick Perry gets into the 2012 presidential race, you can bet he will campaign hard on jobs. Though Texas’ unemployment rate has largely tracked the national average throughout the recession, Perry touts himself as a pro-business governor, and regularly makes job-hunting raids to states like California, touting Texas’ tax credit programs in an effort to woo businesses — and jobs — to his state.

But Perry will come under scrutiny for the massive, largely unsupervised funds that he has used to lure businesses to Texas. Various investigations have shown that these funds have moved millions of dollars to Perry donors and to companies associated with individuals nominated by Perry to run the funds. At the same time, the companies subsidized by the funds have shown only modest success in creating jobs.

The largest fund, the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF), was created in 2003 and has awarded some $412 million in subsidies to companies nominally to create jobs. A Dec. 2010 analysis by the Texas Comptroller found that $119 million of that money went to companies that didn’t deliver on the jobs they promised. The governor’s office only took back $21 million, often choosing instead to define down the job-creation requirements.

Fellow Republicans have been critical. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a GOP Senator from Texas, called for an independent audit of the TEF and said of the investigations into its performance, “Texans have been offered a disturbing glance into the activities of the Texas Enterprise Fund. For the first time, we have learned of taxpayer-funded contracts being canceled, changed to redefine ‘success’ and actually sending our money overseas to create jobs. This is unacceptable.”

The second major fund under Perry’s control, the Texas Emerging Technology Fund (ETF) has also proven controversial since it was created in 2005. It has spent some $320 million on tax credits and other subsidies for high tech companies willing to move to Texas. An October 2010 investigation by the Dallas Morning News found that $16 million of that money was awarded to companies with investors or officers who are large campaign donors.

Perry denied that politics influenced the awarding of money from the funds. As the News puts it, “The governor’s office administers the tech fund, and the governor must approve each award – a system that most other states with tech funds avoid to guard against political influence.”

Perry succeeded in fending off efforts to cut the funds budgets in the legislative session that ended last month, but the legislature did impose new controls and oversight on the funds.