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The Brief: Top Texas News for March 16, 2011

Gov. Rick Perry conceded on Tuesday that it may be raining, but he's not putting the umbrella all the way up.

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The Big Conversation:

Gov. Rick Perry conceded on Tuesday that it may be raining, but he's not putting the umbrella all the way up.

The governor gave state Rep. Jim Pitts, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, the OK to draw up to $3.2 billion from the state's $9.4 billion Rainy Day Fund to help offset the current deficit.

Perry said earlier in the session that he opposed tapping the fund outright but in recent weeks began to ease up on his position as pressure from concerned Republicans — hoping to access the account in light of harsh budget realities — began to mount. An awkward tussle Monday — in which the governor's office failed to show up for an impromptu Appropriations Committee hearing with Pitts, R-Waxahachie — preceded Perry's approval.

But the governor's endorsement came with a caveat: He said he remained "steadfastly" opposed to a bill for the next two-year cycle that tapped the fund.

Democrats called the governor's refusal wrongheaded. "[This statement] ties our hands," said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. "To say you cannot consider the Rainy Day Fund for fiscal years 2012 and 2013 is irresponsible."

Some Republicans, like Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, also maintained that last fall's elections sent a message to lawmakers to cut spending before accessing the fund.

Still, the committee voted unanimously, 27-0, on Tuesday to send the bill to the House floor, where tapping the fund requires a three-fifths vote.

Pitts — who said he's been the target of an "unbelievable" political attack campaign in recent days — quieted critics: "Some say we’re moving too fast. To those people, I say this committee has been meeting since Feb. 9," he said. "Anyone who says this committee hasn’t fully weighed the impact of cutting has obviously not been following this committee’s work."


  • State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, took another step toward officially retaining her House seat Tuesday after the House Election Contest Committee unanimously voted to uphold Rep. Will Hartnett's decision that she had won the seat over Republican challenger Dan Neil. In a last-ditch effort, Neil could still take the issue to the House floor.
  • Sparking further concern over border security and drawing criticism from both sides of the aisle, the Obama administration has announced that National Guard troops will leave the U.S.-Mexico border by June 30. "I don't think it's right," U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, told the Houston Chronicle. "We need to have a National Guard presence there. I know everyone probably wants more troops there with what has been happening."
  • Three House Republicans have endorsed a revision to controversial social studies curriculum standards set last year by the State Board of Education, according to the San Antonio Express-News. "When groups like the Fordham Institute call our standards 'a politicized distortion of history' and 'an unwieldy tangle of social studies categories,' we have a problem," said Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, who was joined in his criticism by Reps. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, and Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth.

"Someone will write a story or a book someday about the 2010 campaign and our use of social media as a tool to reach a lot of people." — Gov. Rick Perry in an interview at Facebook's Austin office


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