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The Brief: Top Texas News for March 25, 2011

Hundreds of thousands of job losses in Texas after budget cuts? Republican leaders say it could be worse.

Rep. Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie) listens to House Speaker Joe Straus (r) on March 2, 2011

The Big Conversation:

Hundreds of thousands of job losses in Texas after budget cuts? Republican leaders say it could be worse.

A Legislative Budget Board analysis released Thursday showed the state could lose 271,746 jobs in 2012 and 335,244 in 2013 — a combination of public- and private-sector positions — under the current House budget proposal, which cuts state funding by 12.3 percent for the next biennium.

The numbers seemed to rattle some lawmakers. "I've been trying to say this for over a year. I've been trying to say how our economy was bad, and how our shortfall was going to be affecting Texas, and nobody seemed to believe me. But I think reality is probably setting in on that," Jim Pitts, the Waxahachie Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, told the San Antonio Express-News.

But other Republicans, like Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, faulted the analysis for not including how GOP-opposed measures like raising taxes might affect unemployment numbers. "You cannot expect to grow the economy and create jobs by growing bigger government," Dewhurst said in a statement.

A statement issued by House Speaker Joe Straus echoed Dewhurst's: "I question the validity of the assumption that requiring government to live within its means will lead to a downturn in the economy — in fact, the opposite is true," he said. "The best way to jump-start growth is for the Legislature to keep taxes low and regulations reasonable to provide the opportunity for business to grow and thrive in Texas."

The report cautions that the figures don't mean the budget will directly force hundreds of thousands of layoffs but rather that the state would have fewer jobs than a "baseline scenario" in which current spending levels were maintained. The analysis also said the stark job figures could be partly attributed to the recession.

Still, Democrats took the opportunity to hit Republicans for their budget plans. "The voters did not elect us to eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs," said state Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, who requested the analysis. "We have to be smarter than this."

The full House will take up the budget bill April 1.

Culled:

  • The Senate Finance Committee voted Thursday to add nearly $6 billion in funding for public education back into its budget proposal. That's still a $4 billion cut from current levels, though, which must be squared with the House's version of the budget, which slashes public education by $8 billion.
  • A Senate subcommittee also voted to restore $4.5 billion in health care funding to the chamber's budget proposal. The added funding would benefit mental health patients and doctors who accept Medicaid, the Austin American-Statesman reports, but the proposal still includes cuts to a number of crucial programs like medication for low-income Texans with HIV.
  • Rick O'Donnell, whose hiring as an adviser to the University of Texas System Board of Regents recently caused a storm among lawmakers and others concerned about his controversial views on higher education reform, has been moved to a new position set to expire at the end of August, the Tribune's Reeve Hamilton reports.

"I’m gonna let him plead, pay a small fine and he’s gotta sing 'Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain' with his guitar right there in the courtroom. You bet your ass I ain’t gonna be mean to Willie Nelson." — Hudspeth County attorney Kit Bramblett on the plea deal he's ready to make with Nelson, who was arrested in November for marijuana possession

Must-Read:

Programming Round-Up:

  • Session '11 (Austin, KXAN, Sunday, 9:30 a.m.): State Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio; Jose Aliseda, R-Beeville; Donna Howard, D-Austin; and Doug Miller, R-New Braunfels
  • Inside Texas Politics (Dallas-Fort Worth, WFAA-TV, Sunday, 9 a.m.): State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth

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