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The Brief: Jan. 19, 2011

Stark budget realities came into focus Tuesday night, threatening to overtake the day's festivities.

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THE BIG CONVERSATION:

Stark budget realities came into focus Tuesday night, threatening to overtake the day's festivities.

While officials celebrated the inauguration of Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, House leaders released a base budget plan last night totaling $156.4 billion, nearly 17 percent less than the current two-year budget. As Republican leaders promised, the draft includes no new taxes and no proposals to dip into the state's reserves.

But the proposal provided the first taste of the deep cuts that have been rumored for months. On the table: 9,600 layoffs, a 10 percent cut to the amount the state pays to doctors and hospitals for accepting Medicaid, huge cuts to student financial aid and public education, and a prison closure (unprecedented, in Texas).

The cuts total roughly $31 billion.

Other small but notable government-efficiency recommendations among a laundry list prescribed by the Legislative Budget Board, which guides lawmakers in writing the budget: eliminate the sales tax holiday (for the time being), raise insurance premiums for state employees who use tobacco, direct veterans to health benefits that aren't state-funded, charge state employees for parking in state garages and lift the ban on Sunday liquor sales.

And just to show how aggressively the state is scrounging, one recommendation suggests creating a program for state employees that would let them buy prescription pills with twice the recommended dosage and then split the pills in half at home, saving the state $710,190. (Yes, really.)

House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, will address the House today. The Senate will issue its own budget proposal next week.

CULLED:

  • At his inauguration Tuesday, Gov. Rick Perry didn't hold back while touting Texas as a national exemplar. "You might say historians will look back at this century and call it the Texas century," he said in a speech that hit on familiar notes — no new taxes, down with Washington — for the governor, who now begins his third full term. Find video, transcripts and photos of the event here.
  • If the 2012 Senate race to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison wasn't already under way, how's this: We now have polling. According to Public Policy Polling, the seat, as of now, looks safe for the GOP, with Republicans leading — by double digits — in 12 of 12 surveyed match-ups. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst fared the best in hypothetical races with Democrats, besting former Comptroller John Sharp by 18 points, former U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards by 19 points and San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro by 28 points.
  • A federal appeals court that banned the University of Texas in 1996 from factoring race into its admissions policy ruled against itself on Tuesday, upholding UT's use of affirmative action. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said the Supreme Court has since ruled, in a 2003 case involving the University of Michigan law school, in favor of affirmative action in university admissions. Opponents of affirmative action hope to argue the case back up to the Supreme Court.
  • Texas Monthly has released its list of the 25 most powerful people in the state of Texas. Among the 25: Dave Carney, Gov. Rick Perry's (who also made the list) chief political consultant; Bob Perry, the GOP megadonor; Steve Mostyn, Perry's Democratic counterpart; State Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan; and Michael Quinn Sullivan of Empower Texans.

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