TribWeek: Top Texas News for the Week of 1/17/11

The Trib staff on the sweeping cuts in the proposed House budget, Grissom on what's lost and not found at the Department of Public Safety, Galbraith on the wind power conundrum, Hamilton on higher ed's pessimistic budget outlook, Stiles and Swicegood debut an incredibly useful bill tracker app, Ramsey interviews Rick Perry on the cusp of his second decade as governor, Aguilar on a Mexican journalist's quest for asylum in the U.S., Ramshaw on life expectancy along the border, M. Smith on the obstacles school districts face in laying off teachers and yours truly talks gambling and the Rainy Day Fund with state Rep. Jim Pitts: The best of our best from January 17 to 21, 2011.

How do you lose a 24-foot boat? Or a $74,000 piece of radio equipment? Or more than 150 handguns and rifles? Those are just a few of the nearly 1,500 items that the Texas Department of Public Safety reported stolen or lost in the last decade. Some of the assets might still be in the possession of DPS or possibly were sold, but the agency’s inventory system is so poor that it's hard to know what's actually missing.

At the heart of Texas' wind-power boom lies a conundrum: Plenty of ranchers are eager to host wind turbines but few want to allow the unsightly high-voltage transmission lines needed to carry the power to distant cities. But state regulators are moving forward — and this week they approved a contentious project that runs through the Hill Country.

Every chancellor of a university system in Texas knows — down to the exact, excruciatingly precise percentage point — how much worse higher education fared than other agencies when their current budgets were cut. With the state facing a massive budget shortfall in the next biennium, the chancellors know they're in for another round. But this time they're adamant that they not bear a disproportionate share of the pain.

With the 82nd legislative session only in its second week, Texas lawmakers have already filed more than 900 bills — potential laws addressing hundreds of subjects. Our latest data-driven application aims to help Texans make sense of the legislative process, tracking bills as they move through the Texas House and Senate during the next five months. The app is a reflection of our “data-is-news” philosophy, and as we update it, it will play a key role in our coverage of the session.

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The Texas House has unveiled a $156.4 billion budget that's $31.1 billion smaller than the current two-year spending plan — a drop of 16.6 percent. The proposed budget came with $1.2 billion in recommendations for savings and new revenue from the Legislative Budget Board.

As he begins his second decade as governor, Rick Perry tells the Tribune's Ross Ramsey that his plan is to deal with the basics: to make sure the state is on a smooth economic path, to pass a balanced state budget, to coax the federal government into loosening its purse strings and tightening its security on the Mexican border.

There are two paths to asylum in the United States. Mexican journalist Emilio Gutiérrez, whose life was threatened by the Mexican military, may have taken the wrong one.

Many of the longest lives in Texas are lived in an unlikely place: along the impoverished border with Mexico, where residents often live until age 80 and beyond. Explanations for this so-called "Hispanic Paradox" range from theories about differences in the diet, faith and family values of first-generation South Texans to suggestions that natural selection is at play in immigration patterns.

Despite the budget crisis, thousands of Texas teachers know their jobs are safe. They possess a "continuing contract" — the public education equivalent of tenure. Many of the most senior educators are employed under these contracts, which may complicate the efforts of some districts to cut personnel costs.

State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, talked to the Tribune's Evan Smith about the size of the budget shortfall, the possibility of new revenue sources and why he'd support legalized gambling.

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