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The Brief: Top Texas News for March 28, 2011

This week, we may find out just how hard the budget ax will swing — and who's doing the swinging.

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The Big Conversation:

This week, we may find out just how hard the budget ax will swing — and who's doing the swinging.

The full House will take up its version of the budget on Friday, just over a week after the bill was voted out of committee.

The bill cuts state funding by 12.3 percent for the next biennium, leaving services like Medicaid about $6 billion short and public education funding about $8 billion short under current finance formulas.

Debate last week centered on a Legislative Budget Board analysis warning that the House budget proposal could cost the state hundreds of thousands of public- and private-sector jobs.

As the Tribune's Ross Ramsey writes today, the vote on Friday will give the Tea Party — whose members say they were elected to make cuts — an opportunity to flex its muscle. "The votes, starting with the House floor vote this week," he writes, "will give those interested parties a road map showing who voted which way on what amendment — who’s soft on that provision and firm on that one."

Meanwhile, since the beginning of the session, the prospect of such sweeping cuts has had lawmakers of both parties, especially in the Senate, searching for alternatives. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has said the upper chamber wouldn't likely be able to muster the votes to approve the House bill.

In response, Dewhurst recently appointed a subcommittee to dig up "non-tax revenue" to add to the Senate's budget proposal. Last week, increases in driver's license fees and college tuition were floated as possible fixes. With the panel given two weeks to report back, we'll likely see this week what the senators come up with.

Culled:

  • The University of Texas System Board of Regents on Friday reassured worried alumni that it considers academic research "extremely valuable to society," a day after the president of Texas Exes, the University of Texas at Austin's major alumni association, sent out an email warning of anti-research bias among the regents.
  • El Paso Democrats have their sights set on state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, who cast the sole Democratic vote in favor of the House voter ID bill last week. "I think it's awfully shortsighted for the Democratic Party to say they are going to find a candidate to run against me because of one vote out of hundreds we will take this session, but that just shows you how desperate they feel," Pickett told the El Paso Times.
  • State Rep. Burt Solomons, a Carrollton Republican and chairman of the House Redistricting Committee, says the Legislature may need to expand the State Board of Education to accommodate growing districts.
  • Democratic House members have filed bills that would take "homosexual conduct" off the books as a crime in Texas, but such legislation would face tough odds in the Republican-controlled Legislature. The bills' supporters say the law, which remains in the Texas Penal Code but cannot be enforced because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, feeds discrimination.

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