The Brief: Top Texas News for March 1, 2013

The Big Conversation

With the sequester triggered, now comes the waiting. 

As expected, the sequester ax fell at midnight amid stalled budget negotiations between Congress and the White House. But just how big a hit Texas and the rest of the nation will take — and how quickly — remains unclear.

Texas stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars as a result of the sequester, a series of automatic, across-the-board cuts that were crafted to goad Congress toward a budget compromise. According to the White House, the cuts in Texas could force hundreds of teacher layoffs, and more than 50,000 Department of Defense employees could be furloughed. Thousands of children could lose access to Head Start and vaccines. As in other states, cuts to airports and other trade ports could create delays for travelers and businesses.

Cities and other municipalities will also be squeezed.

"It will not be the first day, but within a year, we will have a $3 million hit to our budget," Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck said on MSNBC this week. "That's a lot of money for a community." 

But the obscurity of the cuts — as well as ongoing budget negotiations in Washington — means that much of Texas and the nation won't feel an immediate impact. Even federal officials are having trouble forecasting the impact and timing of the cuts.

"It’s conceivable that in the first week, the first two weeks, the first three weeks, the first month, a lot of people may not notice the full impact of the sequester," President Barack Obama said this week.

The good news for Texas: Despite the uncertainty, economists expect the state's relatively strong economy to withstand the damage from the cuts — whatever they end up being.

"It won’t be a crisis in Texas," Robert Dye, chief economist for Comerica Bank, told The Dallas Morning News. "The economy is broad enough to weather the storm."

Culled

•    Senate Panel Backs More Money for Public Schools (The Texas Tribune): "A panel of senators voted Thursday to put $1.5 billion in additional public school funding in the state's two-year budget. That includes more money for pre-kindergarten programs, the state's Virtual School Network and Teach for America."

•    George P. Bush gauges interest in him as a candidate (San Antonio Express-News): "George P. Bush, the man who many believe can ignite enthusiasm for the Republican Party among Hispanic voters, drew praise from agricultural producers in this traditionally Democratic Party stronghold Thursday. A likely candidate for a statewide office, Bush, 36, touched briefly on a range of topics, including water rights and conservation, tax reform and regulation at a fundraiser attended by about 100 people."

•    Bill White says Texas lagging in skilled jobs (Bloomberg): "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."

Quote of the Day: "If the Board of Regents call the chancellor tomorrow and tell him they want Britney Spears to be the next president of the institution, that’s who it will be. It may not be good judgment, but it’s absolutely within their right." — State Sen. Kel Seliger, the chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, on the University of Texas System Board of Regents' authority

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