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The Brief: Top Texas News for March 2, 2011

Is it raining out there yet? A growing chorus of Republican voices seems to think so.

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THE BIG CONVERSATION:

Is it raining out there yet? A growing chorus of Republican voices seems to think so.

State Rep. Jim Pitts, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, filed a bill Monday that would draw $4.3 billion from the state's Rainy Day Fund, a $9.4 billion pot of reserve money that Gov. Rick Perry and a number of other conservatives oppose tapping, even as the state grapples with a $15 billion to $27 billion budget shortfall.

Perry thinks spending the fund would only postpone the tough decisions that need to be made to balance the budget, but others argue that the fund was intended to be drawn down in times like these.

"Over the past year, the Legislature has made cuts to help offset this deficit, but those cuts by themselves are not enough,” said House Speaker Joe Straus, according to the San Antonio Express-News, though he added that the committee would consider other options before cracking open the fund.

On Tuesday, another Republican, state Sen. Robert Deuell of Greenville, told the Tribune's Ross Ramsey that he supported spending most of the fund. "I think it's raining, and I would hate to make cuts this session and come back in two years and find out we didn't have to make those cuts," he said.

Deuell, most notably, though, broke from Republican orthodoxy by telling the Tribune that he'd rather raise taxes a little bit than make the massive cuts legislators are considering.

"We're the 45th-lowest tax state," said Deuell, who has supported increasing the gas tax by 10 cents and said he'd support an expanded sales tax. "I'm not chomping at the bit to be number 44, but we're a low-tax state and we've got people in need."

CULLED:

  • The House will today take up abortion sonogram legislation, which has already cleared the Senate and a House committee. The stricter House bill requires a doctor to perform a sonogram on a woman seeking an abortion at least 24 hours in advance, rather than the two hours prescribed in the Senate bill.
  • Unease hung over a House committee hearing on voter ID Tuesday as supporters of the legislation — like Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, who supports voter ID because he says it will increase voter confidence — heard testimony defending the bill on anti-illegal-immigration grounds. "The danger of voter fraud is the illegals that come into this country and vote fraudulently," said an elections volunteer. Peña called such concerns over voter fraud "a distraction and unjustified fear." Meanwhile, Democrats, trying to slow the process, questioned the costs of the bill.

"The guy who cuts my lawn pays sales taxes. The gal who cuts my hair doesn't. Is that fair?" — State Sen. Robert Deuell, R-Greenville, on his support for broadening the state sales tax

MUST-READ:

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