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The Brief: May 19, 2011

After a day of dizzying budget back-and-forth, lawmakers have another shot today at avoiding a special session.

Sen. Steve Ogden (r), R-Bryan, talks with Sen. Robert Duell, R-Greenville, after the Senate votes, 19-12 to pass the budge...

The Big Conversation:

After a day of dizzying budget back-and-forth, lawmakers have another shot today at avoiding a special session.

The House today will again take a crack at two crucial fiscal bills, which were delayed Wednesday after negotiations between House and Senate lawmakers — and, in one closed-door meeting, with Gov. Rick Perry — repeatedly stopped and stalled, as the Tribune's Becca Aaronson and Thanh Tan reported.

The debate still pivots on education: The Senate, led by its finance chairman, Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, wants to spend $4 billion more than the House to fund public schools. To do that, the Senate, needed the House on Wednesday to pass the two fiscal bills, one of which, by deferring payments to schools, would yield about $2.6 bilion for lawmakers to work with.

But the more conservative House — which, led by Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, wants a deal on the final budget before voting on the bill that would defer payments — wouldn't budge.

Perry, who on Tuesday — in a shot at the deferred-payment bill — said he would not support a state budget for the next two years that resorted to "accounting gimmicks," met with several House members in the morning. Republicans caucused behind closed doors later in the day and emerged with an agreement that they'd delay debate on the two fiscal bills to allow members to pull amendments, hundreds of which had been filed — and could have forced days of debate during a time crunch. (The session ends May 30.)

Ogden said the two bills needed to pass before a deal on the final budget could be struck. "It's politics at its worst, is what it is," he said. "The fact that neither bill is moving means that a special session is a certainty."

But Pitts had a different take, saying they were "very, very close" to reaching a deal.

Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, told the chamber that 5,000 teachers have been laid off while lawmakers went back and forth. "I think it’s better to just go into special session," he told the Tribune. "Because it can’t get any worse than where we’re at now."

Negotiations say lawmakers now have until Saturday to strike a deal.

Culled:

  • In one of the bigger surprises of the session, the most controversial piece of immigration-related legislation that the Legislature has taken up this year — state Sen. Tommy Williams' sanctuary cities bill — could be dead after Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, on Wednesday replaced the bill's immigration language with a homeland security bill the Senate passed in April. The sanctuary cities bill, as the Tribune's Julián Aguilar reported, already faced long odds in the Senate, where's it's said that even some Republicans had balked at the bill.
  • Hearings this week on congressional redistricting have been canceled to give lawmakers more time with the maps, but the leaders of the House and Senate redistricting committees are split on the likelihood of a special session on the issue.
  • This week's renewed Rick-Perry-for-President buzz got a shot in the arm Wednesday from conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh, who on his talk show delivered 20 minutes of praise for the governor, whom he said has the "potential to light this up." Meanwhile, Nate Silver at The New York Times' FiveThirtyEight blog on Wednesday outlined in detail how a southerner could take the Republican nomination. "A candidate like Mr. Perry, who would have advantages like fundraising and establishment support that would extend to all corners of the country, might be more like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, doing very well in the South and still well enough outside of it to win his party’s nomination," Silver wrote. The governor, for the record, still says he's considering no such thing.

"He has great hair." — Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh on Gov. Rick Perry

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