Perry's Taxpayer-Funded Home Could Pose Political Hazard

Perry's Taxpayer-Funded Home Could Pose Political Hazard

By Scott Conroy - July 12, 2011

One of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's most valuable assets as a potential Republican presidential candidate figures to be his early and emphatic association with the tea party movement, whose cost-cutting principles have dominated the discourse in early primary and caucus states.

But if Perry does enter the race, he is likely to face some uncomfortable questions about his own taxpayer-funded spending habits.

For almost four years, Perry has resided in a lavish rental home tucked into the hills overlooking the capital city of Austin, a house that has been publicly financed to the tune of over $700,000 thus far. At a time when the language of belt-tightening drives grass-roots GOP politics like little else, Perry would likely face scrutiny over whether his personal lifestyle choices befit a candidate who has made vast spending cuts a cornerstone of his platform.

As Texas faced a projected budget shortfall last year, the Associated Press reported that state taxpayers had been billed for almost $600,000 to pay rent, utilities and upkeep on the five-bedroom mansion outside the state capital, which Perry had moved into in the fall of 2007 while renovations were being done on the governor's mansion.

In 2008, a fire that investigators deemed arson partially destroyed the mansion, and Perry has continued to live in the rental home, which is currently valued just north of $1 million, while his official residence continues to be restored.

The AP's 2010 report laid out some of Perry's state-funded expenses on the temporary residence, including $8,400 for maintenance on a heated pool, $1,001 for Neiman Marcus window coverings, and $1,000 for repairs on a filtered ice machine. And in a detail that might be of negligible concern to Texas taxpayers but could make for a convenient talking point for Perry's future GOP opponents, the governor charged the state $70 for a subscription to Food & Wine Magazine at his home.

"We're paying $10,000 a month for it at a time when Texans are facing a massive budget shortfall, and it's irresponsible for Texans to have to pay for his extravagant lifestyle," Texas Democratic Party communications director Kirsten Gray said. "No governor who spends $1,000 in taxpayer money for Neiman Marcus window coverings can call himself a conservative."

The controversy surrounding Perry's pricey rental home could take on added resonance after the governor recently signed a budget that several news reports characterized as having been balanced largely through accounting gimmicks.

Perry spokesperson Mike Miner told RCP that, in fact, "there is no structural deficit" in the state's budget and said that lawmakers were provided an opportunity to scrutinize the appropriateness of Perry's well-appointed rental home during the budget process.

"We just came out of a legislative session where the governor's residence was thoroughly vetted," Miner said. "People throughout Texas are more concerned about balancing the budget without raising taxes, leaving more than $6.5 billion in a rainy day fund, and Texas living within its means. There are not many states that can point to that success, and at the same time, Texas continues to create jobs and continues to be one of the strongest economies in the country."

During his 2010 general election campaign, Perry's Democratic challenger, Bill White, attempted to use the housing issue against the incumbent in a TV ad that juxtaposed the $10,000 a month taxpayers are spending on the home with Texas schools' weak national standing in graduation and test scores.

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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