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The Brief: Top Texas News for March 11, 2011

A hearing on Thursday, largely meant to look into use of the Rainy Day Fund, played host to drama pitting House lawmakers against Gov. Rick Perry.

State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, lays out House Bill 1.

The Big Conversation:

A hearing on Thursday, largely meant to look into use of the Rainy Day Fund, played host to drama pitting House lawmakers against Gov. Rick Perry.

At a House Appropriations Committee meeting, budget writers grilled two Perry aides in attendance, Ken Armbrister and Mike Morrissey, over whether the governor has been overstating the amount of cuts lawmakers could still make to plug the budget hole.

A letter from Perry's office began circulating Monday that detailed an additional $1.5 billion in cuts for lawmakers to consider — $1.2 billion of which the House had already proposed cutting, the aides admitted. The committee's chairman, Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, also said Perry had been telling lawmakers in conversation Thursday that they've overlooked $1 billion in savings.

"We're trying to get a solution to our budget crisis," Pitts said. "And when the governor is out telling members the complete opposite, it doesn't help to pass the bill."

Morrissey, Perry’s budget adviser, shot back: "I don’t know what he’s said within the hour, sir. I’ve been here."

Armbrister, Perry's legislative director, added that Perry hasn't completely ruled out tapping the Rainy Day Fund. This week, Perry backed down, subtly, on his opposition to tapping the fund, but he had previously said he strongly opposed the idea. "I don't know where it came out that the governor was just hardball on this," Armbrister said.

All told, Pitts said, the hearing likely gave lawmakers the green light to tap the fund, as laid out in House Bill 275, which, he added, the committee could bring up for a vote Monday.

Culled:

  • Scores of teachers and other public school employees and education advocates are expected to meet at the Capitol this weekend to protest proposed budget plans that could slash up to $10 billion from public education. And many will come directing their message toward one figure: Gov. Rick Perry, who drew fire this week for saying that local districts, not the state, are to blame for any teacher layoffs that might result from the budget cuts.
  • The Austin American-Statesman today looks at budget cuts' effects on college aid, which will likely be offered to increasingly few college freshmen under state budget proposals that have included no funding for new financial aid rewards. "We think the worst thing we could do is send out financial aid awards in April and May, and then six or seven weeks before tuition bills are due, send them an e-mail telling them we don't have the money to cover it," says an official at the University of Texas.
  • Today marks the 60th day of the legislative session, the deadline for lawmakers to file bills. One piece of legislation that made it in under the wire Thursday: Republican state Rep. Paul Workman's House Bill 2886, which would establish a guest-worker program in Texas for illegal immigrants.

"There's no doubt that you know individuals who have been here multiple terms bring a perspective that younger members can't." — State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton, on working through the state's budget woes

Must-Read:

Programming Round-Up:

  • Texas Week (KLRN, San Antonio, Friday, 8:30 p.m.): House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio
  • Session '11 (Austin, KXAN, Sunday, 9:30 a.m.): State Reps. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, and Leo Berman, R-Tyler
  • Inside Texas Politics (Dallas-Fort Worth, WFAA-TV, Sunday, 9 a.m.): State Reps. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, and Bill Zedler, R-Arlington

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