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By Will Weissert
AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry defended a state-run fund designed to attract high-tech researchers, businesses and jobs to Texas, saying last Thursday that the government should play a role in enticing key research talent to the state — even if it makes some people nervous.
During his unsuccessful run for president, Perry was a fierce advocate for limited government and free-market values.
During a speech to an Austin summit of venture capitalists, he noted that Texas has become especially business-friendly thanks to relaxed regulatory policies, tort reform and an unwavering commitment to low taxes.
But the governor also praised the Emerging Technology Fund, which his office controls, saying it had invested “more than $177 million in grant-matching and research superiority funds in Texas universities.”
“We saw the need for the state to be a participant, and we consider ourselves to be a competitor with the private sector, and there’s some people that get a little bit nervous about that,” Perry said. “But generally, we’re the last resort, if you will, as a funding mechanism for some of these companies.”
According to a January report released by Perry’s office — the most recent, full set of data available — the fund created 820 jobs since 2006 by investing in 133 high tech companies.
Perry gave an updated investment figure that was higher than the report, which said Texas had provided $169 million to companies now worth about $174 million.
Some on both sides of Texas’ political aisle say the state should not be spending taxpayer dollars to invest in private companies.
Still, the Emerging Technology Fund is one of two programs that allow the state to invest in commercial enterprises and university research.
Even while defending his state’s spending to attract top tech talent, Perry took an indirect swipe at places such as California — saying top job-creators in technology are highly mobile and may not want to come to states that “overspend and put their economic condition in peril.”
He likened star researchers to sought-after sports free agents.
“They’re no different than LeBron James … they’re no different than Peyton Manning,” Perry said. “Peyton’s out shopping his goods right now and there is a competition that goes on across this country for those researchers.”
Perry also promised that in the next month his office would announce that a major research company is coming to Texas, but he did not provide further details.
The governor has mostly kept a low public profile since dropping out the race for the Republican presidential nomination Jan. 19. But on Thursday, he also called a conservative talk radio show to comment on Texas’ ongoing legal battle over redistricting.
The state’s booming population helped it gain four seats in Congress, and Perry signed a plan last summer by the Republican-dominated Legislature that drew new district maps for congressional and state legislative races.
Minority groups sued, claiming the maps weren’t representative of the growing Hispanic population. So a federal court in San Antonio also drew new maps, which were rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The San Antonio court has issued another set of new maps. But the Texas primary, originally been set for Super Tuesday, likely won’t take place until May 29.
“The fact is, we crafted a good plan and these judges decided they were going to stick their noses in and foul it up, and cost us money and push it back,” Perry said of the primary date.
He decried “judicial activism and activism out of Washington D.C.,” striking a refrain familiar from his presidential campaign.