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The Brief: May 12, 2010

State lawmakers could have 18 billion reasons to worry about next year's session.

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THE BIG CONVERSATION:

State lawmakers on Tuesday learned the gaping budget shortfall already anticipated to be at least $11 billion could be closer to $15 billion — and as high as $18 billion. The bad news came from the Legislative Budget Board’s assistant director, Wayne Pulver.

“You’re looking at the — essentially 11 or so billion in use of one time revenues if you will — if the federal money doesn’t reoccur. Plus the cost pressures. Plus revenue perhaps not coming in as previously estimated. So that’s a number that has been out there. And that’s a reasonable number," Pulver told state lawmakers, as reported yesterday by The Texas Tribune and KUT’s Ben Philpott.

In anticipation of the shortfall months ago, House Speaker Joe Straus, Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst asked department heads to submit plans to reduce the current biennial budget by 5 percent. That sounded alarm bells after some agencies, including the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the Texas Department of Public Safety, said the cuts could lead them to lay off workers and place existing programs in jeopardy.

Tuesday's announcement came on the heels of Straus’ request that lawmakers balance the budget without any sort of tax increase. State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said that as a possible solution, Texas could expand its current gambling operations.

“I’m going to look at every revenue enhancer that can get,” he said. “And I think Texans — if you go across the border into Oklahoma and Louisiana — you’re going to see Texas cars. And we need to grab that money.” 

CULLED: 

  • Aside from calling him a “liberal trial lawyer” and alleging his involvement in “shady business dealings,” Perry’s re-election team often accuses opponent and former Houston Mayor Bill White of leaving the city with more per-capita debt than California. In a statement released Tuesday, however, current Mayor Annise Parker might have taken a little bite out of that argument when she declared her city “in sound financial condition.” Parker’s analysis came alongside her introduction of the city of Houston’s proposed $4.12 billion budget for the next fiscal year, which she said was possible to balance without a “property tax increase and or use of pension” obligation funds.                                                                                                                                                                               
  • Perry introduced his office’s new Texas Homeland Security Strategic Plan for the next five years on Tuesday, outlining contingency efforts in the wake of escalating border violence, natural disasters and terrorist threats. The 50-plus-page plan includes the amount his office currently spent on border security, which is estimated at $230 million. As the Tribune’s Brandi Grissom points out, that money was budgeted by the Texas Legislature for that purpose. Some federal lawmakers are wondering, however, what is being done with the state’s money for homeland security it receives from the federal government. In a joint statement Tuesday, border U.S. Reps. Ruben HinojosaSilvestre ReyesCiro RodriguezHenry Cuellar and Solomon Ortiz alleged that as little as 9 percent of the state’s federal dollars for security have been doled out to the border region. Asked for a response, Deputy Press Secretary Katherine Cesinger said: “Securing the international border is a federal responsibility but a Texas problem, and Gov. Perry remains focused on protecting Texans from those who would do us harm. Gov. Perry and the Texas Legislature have secured hundreds of millions of dollars over the last several years for additional border security efforts to fill in the gaps left by the federal government.”

MUST READ:

Houston Mayor unveils $4.1 billion budgetHouston Chronicle

The Workers’ Comp Whistleblowers — The Texas Tribune

Officials: 3 men kidnapped, murdered in Juarez were US citizensEl Paso Times

Pressure readings prior to Gulf spill eyedSan Antonio Express News

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