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Liveblog: TribLive with House Speaker Joe Straus

This morning's TribLive event is a return engagement: House Speaker Joe Straus on stage with Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-Alamo Heights, on January 13, 2010

This morning's TribLive event is a return engagement: House Speaker Joe Straus on stage with Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith.

Liveblog

by Ross Ramsey
We're about to get started. Evan is on stage getting ready to introduce the speaker.
by Ross Ramsey
If you're a twitterer, watch the tag #triblive to see what people are saying about what Evan and the speaker are saying...
by Ross Ramsey
Evan asks about the abortion sonogram bill. Straus says he's the speaker and not the author of the bill, and that's why it doesn't exactly reflect his position (against abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother). He says he's supportive of the process that produced the bill.... and says it's the first of many emotional issues that will come up this session.
by Ross Ramsey
Evan asks about the economic development funds that are run by the governor and about legislation that would allow other officials to have a say in how those monies are spent. And whether the funds have been administered well. Straus says it sounds like someone there got out of line and it was corrected. "It's taxpayer money and it should be treated respectfully."
by Ross Ramsey
Straus on the Rainy Day Fund:

The current budget is in deficit. It must be corrected. We must pay our obligations. It is a conservative principle.
by Ross Ramsey
"I am all ears as to alternatives to this. I have talked to the governor and he wants time to massage this. I'm not sure massage is an adequate treatment for the ailment that we have. "

"Time is running short."
by Ross Ramsey
"I'm certain we're going to pay our obligations." He won't say directly that he wants to use the RDF, but says he's open to ideas from all of the "smart people" in and out of government in Austin.
by Ross Ramsey
The next session could be challenging as well.

Structural deficit: "It's something that we've been looking at. The margins tax hasn't behaved the way we expected it to... but this is an imprecise business."
by Ross Ramsey
Look at New York, where they have a governor named Cuomo. Rings some bells. Look at California, with a governor named Brown. Also rings some bells. They're both cutting Medicaid. It's not just Texas that has a problem.
by Ross Ramsey
"I don't see an appetite in the House for making any major revisions to the franchise tax", but he also says it needs a look.

"The margins tax isn't the only reason" for the troubles the state is in, he says. The sales tax drop that came with the recession is also to blame.
by Ross Ramsey
"I never say don't look at something... but I don't see an increase in taxes as likely in the House."
by Ross Ramsey
"Taxes must start in the House, and Representative [Harvey] Hilderbran is chairman of Ways & Means for a reason."
by Ross Ramsey
Straus says the recovery is fragile and that he wants legislators to consider all options except for new taxes.
by Ross Ramsey
About the shortfall: "I don't think it's a crisis. I think it's a challenge."
by Ross Ramsey
What about fees?

"It's been done before, and there are certain interests, including the attorney general himself, that have asked for fee increases."

"The whole issue of dedicated fees and dedicated taxes is something that needs to be looked at ... sometimes we just let it sit there and use it to balance the budget."

"Fees, taxes, revenue, it's all basically the same."
by Ross Ramsey
"We have to balance our budget based on what our system is bringing in today."

"As I said, taxes are not on the table."
by Ross Ramsey
Will gambling be legalized?

"Not unless you're going to get on a plane or a bus, I'm afraid."

Straus says he takes his recusal on that is "something I take very seriously" — his family has gaming interests — and says he doesn't talk about it with members.
by Ross Ramsey
Straus says a 23 month or 22 month budget is under discussion, and says lawmakers often come back later (like int he session two years from now) to make past budgets balance.
by Ross Ramsey
"Any time you're talking about significant cuts in funding (for schools), some people probably will not have their jobs who have them today... it's more important that we work in a collaborative way with these schools districts... to give them the tools necessary."
by Ross Ramsey
Evan asks about those who say administrative dollars should be cut from schools. Do you think your superintendent back home is making too much?

"He's done a good job."

by Ross Ramsey
"I think it's up to the school districts to make their own decisions."

"I'm not sure that you can have a school district without somebody running it."

About changing class size limits: "I think we have no choice... I would put that on the list of items for school districts where we have to provide flexibility."
by Ross Ramsey
Straus says he thinks we'll have time to get to the Sunset bills before the Legislature.

Evan moves to redistricting, asking if the House can produce a map that can elect 101 Republicans. "We'll pass a map," Straus says.
by Ross Ramsey
On whether redistricting will lock up at the end: "I'm sure we will all lock arms and move forward together."
by Ross Ramsey
There's a bill that raises questions about where Barack Obama was born. Is the president a citizen of the U.S.?

"I have to take the governor of Hawaii at his word. I think it is preposterous to attack President Obama on that basis. There are so many other issues on which we can disagree."
by Ross Ramsey
Question from the audience about changing the formulas for retirement programs for state and school district employees. The question is about encouraging retirement to cut the budget.

Straus says he hasn't seen numbers, "but we'll certainly take a look at it."
by Ross Ramsey
Evan asks about campus concealed carry and whether it's a good idea.

Straus says he thinks it will reach the floor of the House (and would have last session, had the voter ID meltdown not stopped the flow of bills at the end of that session).

"I didn't run on a platform that the number one concern in higher ed is that we should be well-armed."
by Ross Ramsey
Higher education:

"We have to do things more efficiently." And he says we have to make sure students get out of school faster than they are now.
by Ross Ramsey
About a bill that would close public schools on Fridays to save money: "Backing up on instructional time in the schools is not a good idea."

Question about voter ID, and whether he's aware of anyone who got elected in 2010 as a result of voter fraud. "I can probably pick a few that probably were," he jokes.

"We may have to go further and look at some other voter fraud issues."
by Ross Ramsey
Is there any effort to restructure school finance?

"I live in a Sherwood Forest myself, and I have seen the effects of Robin Hood over the years... I would like to see another thorough review. At difficult times... when is there a better time to take a look at it? ... I don't think we can do an overhaul [this session], but there is going to be some tinkering."
by Ross Ramsey
More school finance: "We will never fix it forever. We will just make adjustments."

And that's it. This edition of TribLive is in the can.

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