- Associated Press - Friday, February 6, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is so new on the job that he still hasn’t moved into the governor’s mansion, but Rick Perry is already seeing more than just his old decor change after 14 years.

Barely two weeks into office, Abbott has scrapped or reformed legacies of the former governor, who is a potential 2016 presidential candidate. University boards are no longer exclusively stocked with Perry picks and transparency - something critics said Perry lacked - has become an early Abbott theme.

The latest was Abbott announcing plans Thursday to take custody of a maligned taxpayer fund that Perry credits with bringing Formula One racing to Austin. It’s the third economic incentive program launched under Perry that Abbott now says he will eliminate or overhaul.

Asked this week if Perry is to blame, Abbott for once looked like his predecessor: He smoothly exited the room with a joke.

“You know I never blame anybody for anything,” the former Texas attorney general said.

The flurry of moves comes before Abbott has even delivered his first State of the State address - the event when governors traditionally lay out their agenda to the Legislature. The ground Abbott is expected to cover Feb. 17 will be familiar to anyone who followed his campaign: border security, education and building more roads.

That Abbott is so far seen as bringing a more measured, pragmatic - even blander - tone to the governor’s office after more than a decade of Perry swagger and confrontation is no surprise. Lawmakers say that gone are pre-emptive threats to kill legislation or public declarations that bills are dead on arrival.

Republican state Rep. Lyle Larson, whose bills in the House often needled Perry policies, said the “humility Abbott has brought is refreshing.”

He also praised Abbott for wasting no time in abolishing the Texas Emerging Technology Fund and instructing lawmakers to reform the Texas Enterprise Fund, which has handed out more than a half-billion in taxpayer dollars to Fortune 500 companies and other businesses that uprooted to Texas.

“With all the controversy around those, at least the perception of cronyism, I think acting quickly like that and distancing himself from the controversies from the prior administration is a brilliant move,” said Larson, referring to criticism that the funds rewarded Perry donors and allies. “You don’t carry that baggage with you. You dispose of it.”

Others question whether Abbott’s early emphasis on transparency and accountability are genuine.

Following a recent scandal and high-level resignations over $110 million in no-bid state contracts to an Austin tech company, Abbott told state agencies this month to implement contract crackdowns proposed by a Republican senator before the tightened rules even become law.

Texans for Public Justice, a watchdog group whose 2013 ethics complaint against Perry led to his criminal indictment last summer, is skeptical that new rules would have stopped the deals that are now under criminal investigation. Abbott also missed chances in 12 years as attorney general to be a better state watchdog, said Andrew Wheat, the group’s research director.

Nonetheless, Wheat gives Abbott credit for talking about transparency so soon into his term.

“We don’t know how the Abbott brain works yet,” he said. “I don’t think that Abbott has been a big crusader against corruption in the past. Hopefully he’s becoming one now.”

Perry’s programs still have defenders. Eliminating the tech fund that gave $200 million to Texas startups over the past decade will make a tough landscape for new companies even tougher, said Scott Collins, a founder of the trade association Bio Austin.

One of Collins’ startups was among the last tech fund applicants to get turned down, but he holds no grudge.

“I kind of saw it coming. It was legacy of Rick Perry’s,” Collins said. “To me, I would think they might want to rebrand it as something else. Even if it was the same thing, “

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Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber


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