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Legislative Notebook — Week 2

Lawmakers are still in the “fixin’ to” stage of the session taking a week off after a week on the job — not unusual in the years when presidents are being inaugurated — but the wheels are turning.

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Lawmakers are still in the “fixin’ to” stage of the session taking a week off after a week on the job — not unusual in the years when presidents are being inaugurated — but the wheels are turning. Voting on House rules turned out to be less about the changes and more about who wanted them, but management easily fended off the proposals they found objectionable.

Senators will return to draw straws next week, finding out (maybe) who is serving a two-year term and who got a four-year term. The “maybe” in that last sentence is for the courts, which still have the Texas redistricting folders open; a ruling that changes all or some Senate districts could make the drawing pointless. Next comes committees, and some optimists think the House and Senate will have their lists by the end of the month — perhaps even next week.

• The 2014 stakes are down. Attorney General Greg Abbott ended the year with $18 million in his accounts, prompting yet another round of speculation about whether he will run for governor next year. He, like Gov. Rick Perry, has said he will make his plans public sometime after the session; the people around the attorney general deny stories that he has said otherwise to close supporters. This much is safe: It would be downright weird for an ambitious Texas politician with that much money in the bank to stay put. Abbott has $3 in the bank for every $1 Perry’s got. One question is about Perry’s backers, many of whom are also Abbott’s backers: Would they spend money on the governor to catch him up and have their money on both competitors in a race, or does it make more sense to back Abbott for one thing and Perry for another? Another: Why would Abbott wait? One lesson from former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is that Perry can be stronger than he looks; on the flip side is the lesson from U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who found in his first run for office that Republican voters are willing to abandon an experienced conservative — lt. Gov. David Dewhurst — for a new one.

• Dewhurst ended the year with almost $2 million in his state campaign accounts, and with a huge asterisk in the notes section. He’s still sorting out the numbers after accusing top aide Kenneth “Buddy” Barfield of pilfering from the accounts, and said that’s why the latest report does not include a section on “non-political expenditures” from the campaign. To wit: "Because of the ongoing investigation of the activities of Kenneth Barfield, the Travis County District Attorney has requested that we temporarily delay filing Schedule I. We will amend the report to include Schedule I when we are advised to do so by the District Attorney. The Travis County District Attorney has communicated this request to the Texas Ethics Commission."

• The timing of a special session on school finance got some attention from the gossips this week, ranging from “there won’t be one” to when it might come. Autumn, after the courts are done? Next spring, after the courts and the primaries are done? It depends on what the courts rule, and whether they demand something quick. And it depends on politics, and whether Perry — who’d be the one to name the date — wants to get it out of the way or hold off until after a March 2014 primary that could turn some of the Capitol’s inhabitants into lame ducks.

• Both the House and Senate include about $89 billion in general revenue spending in the budgets they laid out this week; advocates with the Center for Public Policy Priorities say it would take $7 billion more to keep current services where they are now, and $19 billion more to bring services back to where they were two years ago before the budget cutting in 2011. Left out of the proposed plans: Increases for rising Medicaid costs, restoration of cuts in education spending, any funding for the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas, any new funds for the governor’s economic development funds. Both Jim Pitts in the House and Tommy Williams in the Senate said this is just the starting point.

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