The Brief: Top Texas News for Dec 1, 2009

THE BIG CONVERSATION

Ladies and gentlemen, step right up for your chance to see the incredible, shrinking Rainy Day Fund.

In January, Comptroller Susan Combs projected the state’s emergency savings to be approximately $9.1 billion.  While it was just enough to fill in a substantial budget gap during the session, it never came to that because federal stimulus funding swooped in and provided the necessary cover.

However, with natural gas prices falling as they are, tax collection is down and, it turns out, the Rainy Day Fund is now only adding up to approximately $8.2 billion — a difference of just under a billion dollars.

This will likely not be enough to cover the anticipated gap in the budget during the 2011 legislative session, which Texas Taxpayers and Research Association forecasts as $12.7 billion.

And this time, there’s no stimulus money waiting in the wings.

It takes a two-thirds super majority in both houses of the Texas Legislature to approve spending money in the Rainy Day Fund. Even — or maybe especially — in this tough financial stretch, it might prove difficult to get the necessary support to dip into the emergency fund.

In the meantime, in his interim charges, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has asked lawmakers to study potential changes in tax policy to help bolster the state’s revenue.

CULLED:

• It won’t go down as the most graceful exit. Recently appointed Texas Youth Commission ombudsman Catherine S. Evans relinquished her position after being indicted on a third-degree felony charge for allegedly smuggling a weapon into a TYC lockup.  She claims the presence of the item, a Swiss Army-type knife, in her handbag simply slipped her mind.  Evans also says she is disturbed by the lax security at the facilities uncovered by the event.  If convicted, Evans faces two to 10 years in prison, though she says she anticipates she will be cleared of the charge. Gov. Rick Perry will appoint a replacement to serve at the controversy-plagued commission.

• Where does the time go?  It was 92 days ago that President Barack Obama began exploring options for the way forward in the war in Afghanistan.  Tonight, in a public address, Obama will lay out his chosen path, which includes sending around 30,000 additional American forces on top of the approximately 71,000 already there.

• No comment. That’s still the word from state Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, whose plan to possibly run for re-election was recently outed by state Rep. Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown.  Ogden had announced his retirement in September, clearing the path for Gattis to take the seat.  It has now been over 24 hours since Gattis announced that he would be taking a break from politics and Ogden might be getting back in  — seemingly, before Ogden was ready. 

"I never let my ego get in the way of a good business decision," — state Rep. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, on giving up his radio show to allow the Dallas radio station he owns to focus solely on Indian music.

MUST READ:

• Anti-gay activist's endorsement puts Locke on the spotHouston Chronicle

• Feds to states: Don't privatize food stampsAustin American-Statesman

• Rising Removals — The Texas Tribune

• William McKenzie: Why Hutchison is the biggest force in the governor's raceThe Dallas Morning News

• Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood talks of hike in federal gas taxFort Worth Star-Telegram

• Texas sues price-comparison Web sitesAustin American-Statesman

• Tributes pour in for Valley Partnership legend Bill SummersRio Grande Guardian

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