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The Brief: Top Texas News for April 8, 2011

It's no government shutdown, to be sure, but Texas has run into its own bout of fiscal drama: leaked budget documents.

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The Big Conversation:

It's no government shutdown, to be sure, but Texas has run into its own bout of fiscal drama: leaked budget documents.

On Thursday, anti-tax group Empower Texans posted on its website a list of revenue sources under consideration by the state Senate, which has been unwilling to cut as deeply from the state budget as the House, which recently approved a stark, service-slashing budget that cuts spending by $23 billion. The Senate has since sent a subcommittee, led by Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, on a hunt for at least $5 billion in non-tax revenue.

"Nobody's saying 'You can do this, or you should do this,'" Duncan told the Tribune's Ross Ramsey. "This is just a list of things to consider." Of the leak, he added, "I was surprised it was out, but it doesn't matter."

Michael Quinn Sullivan, who heads Empower Texans, wrote on his site that the list includes more than $1 billion through new and increased taxes and "employs budget mirrors and fiscal smoke."

A taste of some of the measures included on the list:

  • $200 million from counting the balances in the Texas Enterprise and Emerging Technology funds against spending to balance the budget.
  • $78 million from shortening the time the state holds unclaimed property, allowing those assets — which can still be claimed by Texans — to be counted against the budget.
  • $216 million from moving up the date when businesses turn over unclaimed property to the state.
  • $111 million from tying the back-to-school sales tax holiday to economic conditions and canceling it in hard times.
  • $66.6 million by accelerating collection of alcohol taxes.

For more analysis, check out BurkaBlog, where Texas Monthly's Nate Blakeslee writes of presenting the list to Republican Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, who chairs the House Ways & Means Committee. "You know, Michael Quinn Sullivan’s group is going to say that everything is a tax increase," Hilderbran said. "See, I don’t happen to accept that."

And if you need an update on where the budget debate stands, the Trib's Thanh Tan has has a nifty overview today.

Culled:

  • The House, by a vote of 124-16, passed a bill Thursday that would ban texting while driving statewide. An amendment from Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, to strike the word “read” from the bill — meaning only typing while driving would be banned — was adopted.
  • A bill allowing guns on college campuses stalled in the Senate on Thursday after Sens. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, and Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, backed away from the bill, which they had previously supported. The bill's author, Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, said he'll try again Monday.
  • The Social Security numbers of more than 160,000 students from eight Texas school districts over the past two decades may have been compromised, according to Texas Education Agency documents reported on by the Trib's Morgan Smith. The Trib reported in March that the agency had lost track of the Social Security numbers of 24,903 current and former Laredo high school students.

"It’s very dangerous, but I hate for myself to be considered a criminal for so much as looking down at my phone." — Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, who successfully amended a texting-while-driving bill to prohibit only typing

Must-Read:

Programming Round-Up:

  • Session '11 (Austin, KXAN, Sunday, 9:30 a.m.): Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst
  • Inside Texas Politics (Dallas-Fort Worth, WFAA-TV, Sunday, 9 a.m.): U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, and former U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas

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