Bill White says Texas lagging in skilled jobs

Former Houston Mayor Bill White, defeated by Republican Rick Perry in a 2010 bid for governor of Texas, said the state is falling behind in preparing workers who can meet the demands of a resurgent U.S. energy industry.

Much of the job growth in Texas has been in low-wage work, and Perry as well as other state leaders may pay the price in the next election if they continue to allow cuts to higher education, White, a Democrat, said yesterday in an interview at Bloomberg’s Houston office.

“Our state and others depend on an educated workforce,” said White, now chairman of the Houston office of Lazard Ltd. (LAZ) While he declined to say how long he thought it might take for Texas Democrats to win a statewide office, he said policies of Perry and some other leaders may influence voters.

“Eventually people will wake up to that reality,” White said. “Using state offices for political purposes, so long as they do that, it’s going to be sooner rather than later.”

White ruled himself out of running for statewide office next year, when Perry and U.S. Senator John Cornyn, a Republican, are up for re-election. The state’s other U.S. Senate seat was won by Republican Ted Cruz in the November election.

In a Jan. 29 survey by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm, White led Perry 47 percent to 44 percent in a potential head-to-head matchup for the governor’s office. The poll of 500 voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

Economic activity in Texas increased for the fourth consecutive month in December even as drilling activity slowed down and the housing market tightened, encouraging builders, according to a report yesterday by Comerica Bank.

Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said she had no comment on White’s remarks.