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The Brief: Jan. 10, 2011

Tomorrow's the big day, but in terms of action, today might be bigger.

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THE BIG CONVERSATION:

Tomorrow's the big day, but in terms of action, today might be bigger.

Yes, the 82nd Legislature convenes tomorrow at noon in Austin, where, for the next 140 days, lawmakers will grapple with a host of issues (which the Tribune conveniently previewed over the weekend, with graphics in tow).

Though immigration and redistricting are sure to cause a stir this session, it's — as you might have heard — the Year of the Really Big Budget Woe, which has lawmakers dithering as they confront harsh realities and public resistance to the sweeping cuts that will likely prove unavoidable.

Just how much of that dithering is necessary, though, will depend on one number, to be announced this morning by Comptroller Susan Combs. That figure, an estimate of how much money the state is likely to collect between now and August 2013, will determine how much the Legislature will be able to write into its two-year budget. And though accuracy can often elude such estimates, legislators will find out whether they're working to fill a $15 billion hole — or one nearly twice as big.

Meanwhile, inside the Capitol, the House Republican Caucus will meet today to possibly coalesce behind a candidate before tomorrow's vote for speaker. Conservative legislators and activists, hoping to unseat moderate incumbent Joe Straus, pushed for the meeting, hoping — in a long-shot bid — to assemble a united GOP front against Straus. But as the Trib's Ross Ramsey writes today, the nonbinding vote will do more than simply reveal who's likely to win on Tuesday.

And back outside the Capitol (as in, directly outside), Tea Party protesters, after a meeting with legislators this morning, are set to greet the Republican Caucus, hoping to send a message ahead of the vote.

Dress warmly, guys.

CULLED:

  • Not far from all the action at the Capitol, the sentencing hearing for Tom DeLay, the former U.S. House majority leader who was convicted in November of money laundering, is set to begin today. DeLay faces up to life in prison but could also walk away with probation.
  • Gov. Rick Perry currently registers his highest approval ratings in five years, according to a poll commissioned for Texas' major newspapers. But Texans still haven't warmed to the idea of a President Perry.
  • Texas' budget woes made a rare appearance in the national political dialogue on Friday, with Paul Krugman of The New York Times writing about a "Texas omen": "For Texas is where the modern conservative theory of budgeting — the belief that you should never raise taxes under any circumstances, that you can always balance the budget by cutting wasteful spending — has been implemented most completely. If the theory can’t make it there, it can’t make it anywhere." Krugman's analysis chafed the conservative National Review, which needled Krugman for his facts. The Texas Observer then fired back, defending Krugman.

"[It's] going to impact everyone, every Texan and the services they receive from the state of Texas." — State Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, on the coming session

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