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The Brief: Dec. 9, 2010

Amid all the budget guesswork, cuts are beginning to crystallize.

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THE BIG CONVERSATION:

Amid all the budget guesswork, cuts are beginning to crystallize.

One such cut came Wednesday from Comptroller Susan Combs, who recommended in a report that elementary schools increase class size, thus eliminating 12,000 teaching jobs — a move that would save the state $558 million.

That hardly puts even a dent in the state budget shortfall, which some now say could top out as high as $28 billion, but it's the latest in a number of specific cuts being proposed ahead of the quickly approaching legislative session, when lawmakers will be forced to do the real decision-making with the budget. On Tuesday, for instance, the state's Health and Human Services Commission said it would cut reimbursement rates for providers of Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program in February, saving $42 million.

But Combs' report, focusing primarily on school spending and efficiency ratings, centered on public education, the biggest consumer of state funds.

And as with any proposed cuts, and especially with the fragile institution of public education, activists are speaking out. "This is the typical penny-wise and pound-foolish arithmetic that this state has engaged in for decades," Richard Kouri, of the Texas State Teachers Association, said of Combs' recommendation, according to The Dallas Morning News. "It's no surprise that if you put more kids in classrooms and fire a bunch of teachers, you'll save money. And you don't save $558 million a year without firing thousands of elementary school teachers."

The Legislature may take up the issue of class size in the next session, as the heads of the education committees in the House and Senate have suggested, the Morning News notes.

The report also recommended that schools share facilities, conserve energy and join purchasing co-ops.

CULLED:

  • U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison has confirmed that she'll vote against the DREAM Act, which the U.S. House passed Wednesday but whose chances look dim in the Senate, which is set to take up the bill today. Formerly considered a potential swing vote, Hutchison said, "I will not support the Dream Act legislation brought before the Senate because it expands the scope of the bill beyond the intended individuals who were brought here as children and grew up and were educated in the United States," according to the Morning News.
  • State Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, looking to nullify the new federal health care law in Texas ("Thomas Jefferson believed in nullification. I believe in nullification and I just wanted to try it," he says), has one idea about how to deal with federal employees who try to enforce the health care law in Texas: make criminals out of them — and, possibly, throw them in jail. "We prohibit any federal employee under a felony offense," he tells a CBS affiliate. "It doesn't mean jail time necessarily, but they could be charged with a felony offense if they try and implement any part of the Obamacare bill in Texas."

"I'm encouraging the Democrats not to go the bomb-throwing route and to be healthy and reasonable." — State Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, on the new Democratic minority in the Texas House

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