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The Brief: Jan. 20, 2011

It's getting messy, and lawmakers — even the budget writer's fellow Republicans — aren't keeping quiet.

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THE BIG CONVERSATION:

It's getting messy, and lawmakers — even the budget writer's fellow Republicans — aren't keeping quiet.

On Wednesday, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, spelled out the first round of proposed budget cuts to his colleagues on the House floor. The proposal, details of which officials released late Tuesday, calls for the state to — among other drastic measures — shed more than 9,000 government jobs, cut Medicaid reimbursement rates, close four community colleges and shutter a prison.

Democrats immediately took issue with the cuts, especially those targeting Medicaid, public education and financial aid for college students. "This the paradigm they've created," Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, said of Republican efforts to balance the budget without raising taxes or tapping state reserves. "And now the question is whether or not Texans find that acceptable."

But Democrats, as well as special-interest groups, weren't alone in their criticism. A number of Republicans united against a recommendation to close four community colleges. State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, thanked Pitts for providing notice that the community college in Bonnen's district, Brazosport College, would lose funding but called the move irresponsible. "The thought of losing an institution like that is kind of debilitating," he said. Some critics also claimed the methodology budget writers used to determine which schools to close was faulty.

Pitts, anticipating objections from the floor, acknowledged that not every lawmaker would be pleased with every aspect of the budget proposal, saying, "This is a very painful process, and I think every member will realize that very quickly." But "this is just the beginning," he added.

CULLED:

  • Republican megadonor Bob Perry has joined the protracted battle for a Travis County state House seat between incumbent Democrat Donna Howard and Republican Dan Neil. Perry, a Houston billionaire, donated $10,000 to Neil, who pushed an election challenge — which the House will now take up — after losing to Howard in a recount by 12 votes.
  • Ted Cruz, the former state solicitor general, announced Wednesday that he'd be seeking the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison when her term expires in 2012. On the same day, Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams announced that he'd be resigning from his current seat in April, when, it appears, he'll start campaigning for the seat. In an interview with the Trib's Ross Ramsey on Wednesday, Williams talked what it means to be a black Republican and asserted that minorities face no added difficulties in Republican primaries. "Race doesn't matter," he said.
  • New membership may have diluted its ultraconservative bent, but the State Board of Education, based on its first meeting of the year, appears unlikely to change its infamous ways, says the Austin American-Statesman.

"At what point is this budget akin to asking an anorexic person to lose more weight?" — State Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, on proposed budget cuts

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