Before heading northeast this weekend to try to coax companies to move to Texas, Gov. Rick Perry issued 24 vetoes. Particularly egregious to us were Perry’s rejection of the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act and his decision to follow through on his threat to cut money for the Public Integrity Unit from the state budget unless Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg resigned.
Perry’s coercive veto of the $7.5 million lawmakers allocated for the Public Integrity Unit for the next two years puts 400 cases and investigations in limbo, including an inquiry into questionable grants awarded by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. It also places in doubt the jobs of 35 prosecutors, investigators and other employees. Travis County commissioners could decide to cover the unit’s costs once current state funding runs dry Aug. 31, but this would mean that Travis County taxpayers would be paying for the work of an office established by the state to investigate state officeholders.
As we noted in an editorial last week, petitions to remove Lehmberg from office are moving toward a summertime trial, and Perry should have let the lawsuits run their course rather than denying the Public Integrity Unit its funding. At trial, the petitions will be an opportunity for Travis County, represented by a jury of Travis County voters and the decision of a Travis County judge, to decide whether Lehmberg should stay or go.
Instead Perry resorted to political blackmail to try to force Lehmberg from office. When Lehmberg refused to go, something she has refused to do since her drunken driving arrest in April, the governor neutered an important agency charged with pursuing state ethics violations.
It’s possible this was Perry’s larger point. Without state money, the Public Integrity Unit presumably shuts down unless Travis County pays to keep it going, or state lawmakers find some sort of magic special session loophole that allows them to restore the money. If Travis County picks up what Perry struck down, then what’s to keep the governor and allied lawmakers from arguing in the future that the cost should be Travis County’s to bear from now on?
We think Lehmberg should have resigned after her arrest. The release of dashboard and jailhouse video showed the district attorney, whose blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit for driving, acting inappropriately, to say the least. Lehmberg pleaded guilty to drunken driving and was sentenced to 45 days in jail, fined $4,000 and had her license revoked for 180 days. She entered a treatment program following her release from jail.
Many Travis County Democrats defend Lehmberg partly out of fear of whom Perry would appoint to replace her. But Perry’s replacement would be temporary, lasting in office until elections in November 2014. Democrats would get the opportunity to replace Lehmberg’s replacement with one of their own in a short 18 months.
The Public Integrity Unit wasn’t the only ethics-related target of Perry’s transparency-averse veto pen. The governor rejected new rules requiring public officials to disclose more information about their personal financial holdings. And last month Perry refused to shed light on so-called dark money by vetoing a bill that would have required groups that spend money to influence elections to reveal the names of their financial backers.
Perry’s rejection on Friday of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act denies Texas women a legal option to pursue equal pay for equal work. The measure was a state version of the federal act signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2009, but Perry did not veto a mere duplication of the federal law. He cut off access to less-expensive state courts for Texas women seeking to end their pay discrimination.
The bill also would have lifted a provision that for many women seeking equal pay neutralizes the pursuit of a legal remedy. The measure would have set the 180-day limit on filing a complaint from the date of a worker’s most recent paycheck, not from the date of her first check. This attempted change acknowledges the reality of most workplaces: Discovering pay discrimination is not easily done when most companies do everything they can to keep pay information secret.
We support Perry’s attempt to bring more jobs to Texas. Unfortunately, the female workers of companies pondering a move here should know they won’t be able to look to the state’s courts for relief if they discover they’re doing the same work as their male colleagues but are getting paid much less. Last week, Perry made sure they can’t go there if they come here.
A list of Gov. Rick Perry’s vetoes, and his reasoning for each one, can be found on the governor’s website: governor.state.tx.us.