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The Brief: Jan. 10, 2013

With lawmakers' plans for the legislative session still taking shape, state leaders on Wednesday touted one issue they've already made a priority: lowering taxes.

The Texas Senate on the opening day of the 83rd legislative session on Jan. 8, 2013.

The Big Conversation

With lawmakers' plans for the legislative session still taking shape, state leaders on Wednesday touted one issue they've already made a priority: lowering taxes.

On the second day of the new session, Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus said at a joint news conference that they expected a form of tax relief for Texans in light of an unexpectedly rosy budget outlook, which the state comptroller announced earlier this week.

"I think we have a record proving that tax relief should be a priority," said Straus, who, like Perry, stopped short of saying in what form Texans could expect such tax breaks. But Dewhurst suggested that lawmakers may consider cuts to business and property taxes.

On the subject of education, none of the leaders committed to restoring the deep cuts to public schools made last session, when the state faced a multibillion-dollar budget shortfall. 

Dewhurst, however, said Wednesday in an interview with the Tribune that the state should set aside money in the event that a ruling in the ongoing school finance lawsuit forces the state to put more money into its education system.

"I think you have to hold some of it back for school finance," he said. "I think it would be imprudent if you didn’t."

The wide-ranging interview, as the Tribune's Aman Batheja and Ross Ramsey report, also included talk of the state budget, immigration, water, transportation, and the lieutenant governor's expectations for the session.

Capitol Notes
Compiled from Tribune reports

  • House lawmakers on Wednesday attempted to pass the rules that will govern how they do business internally for the new session, but the vote was pushed to Monday after a rocky start with an argument between Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, and Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston. Simpson, who withdrew his bid for House speaker on Tuesday, added amendments to the House rules to increase “transparency,” said his chief of staff, Kathi Seay. But Thompson, on the floor of the House, took issue with the wording of Simpson’s additions, especially the insertion of "gross misconduct" to an amendment on firing staff. "I don’t even know what 'gross misconduct' means. Why are we voting something that we don’t have clue as to what it means?" Thompson said, adding, "Mr. Simpson did not define it in his amendment." Seay said Thompson must have missed the earlier use of “gross misconduct” in other parts of the rule. “I think they thought he was interjecting a new term into the rules; the term was already there," Seay said. Tension between Simpson and Thompson dates back to 2011, when Simpson blocked Thompson’s fast-tracked "puppy mill" bill.
  • In keeping with Republicans' calls for fiscal restraint during the new legislative session, state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, wants to ban state politicians from "double-dipping." Turner has filed House Bill 413, which would close a loophole used most famously by Gov. Rick Perry, who revealed during his presidential campaign that he was collecting both his $150,000 yearly salary and an annual pension of more than $90,000.

Texas news from across the state and around the web

  • Perry calls creating wealth an intent of cancer agency (Houston Chronicle): "Texas legislators used the noblest of language to tout the 2007 bill that created the state's taxpayer-funded, $3 billion assault on cancer, but Gov. Rick Perry now says creating wealth is a key mission of the cancer agency. In an interview with the Houston Chronicle this week, Perry said the embattled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas must regain public trust so it can carry out its dual mission of cure discovery and commercialization."
  • Giffords Anti-Gun Group Gets $1 Million Texas Donation (Bloomberg): "Steve and Amber Mostyn, wealthy Texas trial attorneys, said today that they are giving $1 million to help start the gun-control advocacy group formed by former Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark KellySteve Mostyn, one of the top contributors to a super political action committee that assisted in President Barack Obama’s re-election effort, is listed as treasurer of Giffords’s new super-PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions. Mostyn said the group will have a nonprofit wing, which will be used to conduct a public education campaign."
  • Texas House members follow Senate’s lead, increase office budgets (The Dallas Morning News): "House members voted Wednesday to increase their office budgets by 10 percent, a day after senators boosted theirs by nearly 7 percent — and as GOP state leaders launched the legislative session affirming their commitment to austere spending. State representatives’ office allowances for staff, supplies and phone bills will grow by $1,325 a month per member, costing nearly $1 million through the session’s end in May."
  • Texas official admits school finance report errors (The Associated Press): "A state educational official testifying for the Texas Attorney General's office acknowledged Wednesday that she made calculation errors when compiling a report presented during the school finance trial."
  • Grand jury doesn't indict parade float driver (Midland Reporter-Telegram): "A Midland County grand jury on Wednesday did not indict the driver of a parade float involved in the Nov. 15 train wreck that killed four military veterans."

Quote of the Day: "For anyone who is a fan of limited government, for anyone who is a fiscal conservative and economic conservative, Nov. 6, 2012, was an ugly, ugly day." — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz at a Texas Public Policy Foundation event on Wednesday


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