The Brief: February 17, 2010

Budget crunching, the EPA offends Texans, early voting is underway, and gay couples still can't get ... a divorce.

THE BIG CONVERSATION:

Several state agencies showed their creative sides on Tuesday when they submitted, at the behest of Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus, proposed cuts to their budgets for what's left of the current biennium.The reductions ranged from tens of thousands of dollars by smaller agencies (the Texas Funeral Service Commission, for example, proposed about $75k in cuts) to hundreds of millions (See the UT System's strategy, which plans to slash about $175 million).

The efforts are part of a larger plan state leaders hope softens the blow when the Texas Legislature gavels in next year and faces the gargantuan task of balancing a budget with a projected multi-billion-dollar shortfall. But in a true sign of the times, some agencies are begging for mercy. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice sounded alarm bells and said that cuts to any department other than the half-dozen or so it has proposed would not only jeopardize jobs, but reverse gains the department has made. The TDCJ has asked for an exemption to the 5-percent cuts.

But even with departments slashing line-items at every turn, some wonder whether it will be enough. As the Dallas Morning News reports, the across-the-board reductions amount to a "pebble in a large pool."

A spokesman at the Legislative Budget Board said proposals from every state agency should be received by late this week, and you can keep tabs on what department heads are thinking by looking at this page on the LBB's Web site.

CULLED:

  • So you think Houstonians' recent election of an openly gay mayor was a huge step for progressive efforts in Texas? Well, you might want to hit the rewind button. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is making waves this week as he challenges a divorce granted to a gay couple by a state district judge. The Texas couple was married in Massachusetts and resides in Travis County. Tribune and KUT correspondent Ben Philpott has his report on the issue (complete with audio) here and the Houston Chronicle also weighs in on the debate.
  • Science? What science? Gov. Rick Perry and other leaders on Tuesday sighted the Environmental Protection Agency squarely in their crosshairs as they announced a lawsuit against the federal agency, challenging its recent conclusion that greenhouse gases endanger humans. The Tribune's Morgan Smith was with Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples when they threw down the challenge to the EPA. Her report is here, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's analysis is here.
  • Early voting got off to a decent start on Tuesday as several counties have reported larger turnouts for the current primary elections than those in recent memory. Harris County logged a near-400 hundred percent increase on the first day of early voting this year compared to 2006, and Lubbock also registered a higher number of first-day ballots cast. Early voting runs through Feb. 26 and the Secretary of State has the information you need here. The primaries are on March 2 if you want to wait for Election Day.

MUST READ

Day Care DangerTexas Tribune

Texas sues to stop EPA from regulating greenhouse gases — Austin American Statesman

Poll: Large majority opposes Supreme Court's decision on campaign financingThe Washington Post

Agency budget cuts small in the face of Texas' gaping shortfall The Dallas Morning News

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