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The Brief: Jan. 11, 2011

It's here! 1/11/11. And, oh yeah, the Legislature's back in town.

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THE BIG CONVERSATION:

It's here! 1/11/11. And, oh yeah, the Legislature's back in town.

You might have heard a little something about that here recently, but for those unfamiliar, basically: The government's back in session, returning, as it does every two years, for 140 days. During that time, legislators will sort through a number of issues, wading into potentially divisive fights over redistricting and immigration.

But the bulk of the drama comes down to one thing: money, and how much they'll have to cut while staring down that inescapable multibillion-dollar state budget hole. 

On Monday, the depths of that hole became a little clearer, with Comptroller Susan Combs announcing that state will collect $77.3 billion in general revenue during the next two-year budget cycle. That would put the budget shortfall at anywhere between $15 billion and — if the state were to maintain current spending levels — $27 billion. As for the specifics, the Brief will defer to the Trib's Ross Ramsey, who today breaks down the numbers and what they mean.

And while those figures proved grim, the math worked out for Speaker Joe Straus, who won the support of the 101-member Republican House Caucus on Monday after spending the last two months fending off attacks from conservative opponents looking to oust him from the Legislature's top political post. Monday's vote — pushed for mainly by outside activists hoping, against most odds, that Republicans would coalesce behind one of Straus' more conservative opponents — appeared to have brought an end to the race.

But one of Straus' opponents, Ken Paxton of McKinney, announced Monday night that he would stay in the race, forcing a floor vote today. "Texans who provided us with our historic governing mandate should be embraced and welcomed into the process. They deserve openness and transparency — including a public vote — and that is why I will remain a candidate for Speaker on the floor of the Texas House," Paxton said in a statement.

The vote, largely ceremonial at this point, will crown Straus. But for Paxton and his supporters, they'll likely see it as a shot across the bow. As Ramsey says of conservative protesters who showed up at the Capitol on Monday, "Many … wore stickers with 3/6/12 on them: That's the date of the next Republican primary election.

The 82nd Legislature convenes at noon.

CULLED:

  • Nearly buried beneath a mountain of state Capitol happenings (and "Hammer in the slammer" headlines), Tom DeLay, the former U.S. House majority leader and redistricting mastermind, was sentenced Monday to three years in prison for a charge of conspiracy. The judge, Pat Priest, also suspended a five-year sentence for a money-laundering charge and placed DeLay on 10 years probation. But for his opponents, as the Trib's Morgan Smith and Aziza Musa note today, it's not a time to be dancing on DeLay's grave: "There is little reason to feel comfort in justice being served to Tom DeLay today," said Lone Star Project Director Matt Angle in a statement. "His corrupt, partisan legacy lives on in Austin and is being practiced enthusiastically by the Republicans currently in control in Texas."
  • Despite the revenue figures announced Monday, Gov. Rick Perry maintained that the state would weather deep cuts to crucial programs and services. "The sky's-falling, the-world's-coming-to-an-end storyline just is not reality," he told The Dallas Morning News. The governor also told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he hasn't changed his views on legalizing gambling as a way to boost revenue: "I have consistently been an opponent to expanding the gambling footprint in Texas and continue to maintain that position," he said.

"It’s dangerous to our system. Just because somebody disagrees with you — it’s not enough to ruin your reputation. They have to put you in jail, bankrupt you, destroy your family."Tom DeLay, addressing the court before his sentencing on Monday

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