Under Rick Perry's leadership, Texas has registered the largest growth in jobs and population among the 50 states while amassing a deficit estimated at between $15 billion and $27 billion for the next two years.

Under Rick Perry’s leadership, Texas has registered the largest growth in jobs and population among the 50 states while amassing a deficit estimated at between $15 billion and $27 billion for the next two years.

The population has surged by about 3.9 million since 2000, giving the state four new seats in Congress, the biggest gain for any state, Census Bureau figures show.

Payroll jobs, meanwhile, have grown by more than 1 million while total U.S. employment was little changed, said Richard Froeschle, deputy director of Labor Market and Career Information at the Texas Workforce Commission.

“A lot of the job growth in Texas has occurred in lower-wage industries, which is problematic but also no different than in other states,” Froeschle said.

“People and companies are coming to Texas because of good public policy that includes low taxes,” said Merrill Matthews, a resident scholar at the Institute for Policy Innovation, a conservative research center that advocates for lower taxes and smaller government.

While Perry appears to be testing the presidential waters by traveling to U.S. cities, including Los Angeles on Thursday, and touting Texas’ business-friendly environment, corporate leaders are criticizing a 2012-2013 state budget that cuts higher-education spending while shortchanging primary and secondary schools by $4 billion in the two years that begin in September.

Executives including Ed Whitacre, a former chairman of Dallas-based AT&T, have said cuts of that magnitude may make Texas less competitive. The state ranks 43rd in graduation rates, according to the Legislative Budget Board in Austin.

“For Texas to cut $4 billion from public-school funding now, when a better-educated Texas can be a bulwark against future recessions, seems unwise, not conservative and, in fact, very risky,” Charles Butt, chairman of H.E. Butt Grocery in San Antonio, wrote in a letter published June 10 in the Houston Chronicle.

Public schools have started firing teachers and increasing class sizes, while colleges and universities will receive $1.2 billion less. Lawmakers didn’t raise taxes or dip into the state’s $9 billion Rainy Day fund.

Perry also has appointed regents favoring research restrictions to oversee the University of Texas and Texas A&M University, the state’s top schools for research. The A&M graduate also has sought the creation of degree programs that would cost no more than $10,000.

“We’re faced with serious questions about the validity of academic research when the rest of the world is aspiring to our model,” said Charles Tate, a member of the education-advocacy group. “People are justifiably concerned that serious damage may be done.”

Perry is the only Texas governor since World War II to cut general-fund spending from the previous biennium and remains opposed to a state income tax. Texas ranked 49th among the states in per-capita taxes, at $1,434 a year in 2005, according to a 2009 Census Bureau report.

The state took on more of the cost of funding public schools in 2006 when it reduced property taxes, yet receipts from business taxes designed to offset those revenue losses have fallen short, leading to the massive education cuts.

“The public wants smaller government, but not at the expense of services they support,” said Richard Murray, who teaches politics at the University of Houston. “Education is one of those services they support.”

Still, Perry always has shown resilience when buffeted by critics.

His support for the Trans Texas Corridor project, a $183.5 billion plan to build toll roads alongside railroad tracks and pipelines, was unpopular. He won re-election even after seeking to have sixth-grade girls immunized against cervical cancer. Republicans fought both proposals.

Perry also sidestepped controversy last year after he replaced members of a science panel as they looked into the handling of evidence in a 1991 arson case. Cameron Todd Willingham, sentenced to death, became the subject of a September 2009 New Yorker magazine article that asked whether an innocent man had been executed.

“I think Perry has a certain amount of Teflon,” said Bill Ratliff, who has known him since his days in the state House in the 1980s. “When he stumbles he just rolls with it, avoids the question and recovers. That’s a real talent when you’re in politics.”