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The Brief: Top Texas News for Feb. 21, 2011

As the trend goes, and as the newest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll confirms, Texans want it both ways with budget cuts.

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THE BIG CONVERSATION:

As the trend goes, and as the newest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll confirms, Texans want it both ways with budget cuts.

By a margin of more than 2 to 1, the Tribune's Ross Ramsey reports today, Texans want the government to slash spending, not raise revenue. But when asked specifically where they'd like to see those reductions, Texans back away from cuts to the state's costliest programs.

Eight-two percent, for instance, oppose cuts to public education; 86 percent oppose cuts to Medicaid providers. Ninety percent say no to cuts for nursing home care, and 77 percent oppose the proposed closure of four community colleges.

"We really want to slash the budget, but not anything in it," says pollster Daron Shaw, a UT government professor.

Two proposals attracted the support of a majority of respondents: legalizing and taxing gambling (61 percent in support) and raising taxes on alcohol (52 percent). But, not unexpectedly, Texans still appear dead-set against sales tax increases (86 percent oppose) and a state income tax (94 percent).

Respondents who were white, male and Republican were most likely to support cuts over revenue hikes.

What does this all mean for the state's leaders as they face a $15 billion to $27 billion shortfall that will surely require cuts to many — it not all — of the programs that Texans say they want to see protected?

"If you're a purely craven and political weasel, you have to pay some lip service to cutting and then take a strong look at gambling and other options," Shaw says. "What it says, basically, is that if you are interested in cutting, you have to either ignore or lead on public opinion."

CULLED:

  • Texas Republicans in the U.S. House have taken a step toward securing $830 million in held-up federal funding for education in Texas. On Saturday, led by Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, Republicans passed a bill that attempts to block enforcement of an amendment introduced by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, last year requiring Texas to maintain current education spending levels. The legislation faces tougher odds in the Democrat-controlled Senate, where Texas Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn have sponsored a companion bill.
  • Given some time to settle after its release last week, census data has spurred a look at the fast-growing and fast-changing suburbs of Houston, Fort Worth and Austin.
  • Fifty-three people were killed in Ciudad Juárez over a 72-hour period starting Thursday — one of the deadliest three-day periods the city has seen, CNN reports.

"If Republicans push too far and overreach their mandate, they will be punished by independent voters, just as they were in 1996."Mark McKinnon, a Republican strategist and former adviser to President George W. Bush, to The New York Times on national Republicans' aggressive campaigns to cut government spending

Fallen behind on your Texas news? Check out the latest Week in Texas Politics Recap, produced by the Trib's Justin Dehn and Than Tan, with special appearances by reporters Emily Ramshaw and Julián Aguilar. 

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