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The Brief: May 17, 2013

Another day of seesaw negotiations over the state budget ended without a deal, but an agreement — once again — appears within reach.

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Another day of seesaw negotiations over the state budget ended without a deal, but an agreement — once again — appears within reach.

With the end of the session quickly approaching, lawmakers were expected to announce a breakthrough on Thursday, a day after a dispute over Medicaid expansion temporarily threw negotiations back into limbo, raising the possibility of a special session.

Instead, another dispute — this time over education funding — again threatened to derail the proceedings as committee meetings were canceled amid lingering gridlock.

As the Tribune's Aman Batheja reports, attention early in the day turned to House Democrats, who hold only 55 seats but whose support Republicans need to clear the 100-vote threshold needed in the lower chamber to tap the Rainy Day Fund.

With Democrats wielding leverage, Republicans accused them of overreaching. "The holdup right now is that Democrats cannot stop making demands," a GOP aide said.

But state Rep. Sylvester Turner of Houston, the Democrats' lead budget negotiator, claimed that Republicans had backed out of a plan to put $3.9 billion toward public schools. Turner also accused Gov. Rick Perry of encouraging Republicans to push for a budget with less education money; Perry's office denied the charge.

After a day of back-and-forth, however, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst told The Associated Press that lawmakers were close to finalizing a deal that would put $4.07 billion toward education and offer $1 billion in tax relief. The plan also wouldn't bust the state's spending cap.

Dewhurst said the final plan would be worked out by this afternoon.

Culled

•    Abbott to GOP lawmakers: "Don’t pack your bags" (The Dallas Morning News): "Attorney General Greg Abbott let House members know in the Republican caucus meeting on Tuesday that he expects and is hoping for a special session on redistricting — sooner than later. Several lawmakers in the meeting confirmed that Abbott was hoping the governor will call a special session very shortly after the regular one ends on May 27. 'Don’t pack your bags on May 28,' several members quoted him saying."

•    Cause of West Explosion Remains Unclear (The Texas Tribune): "The cause of the West fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15 people on April 17 has been ruled 'undetermined,' officials announced at a press conference in the town's high school parking lot on Thursday. While an investigation into what triggered the blaze is ongoing, investigators’ examination of the scene has concluded. Because they cannot rule out an intentionally set fire, the matter is still considered a criminal investigation."

•    Texas House Backs Bill Expanding Charter Schools (The Texas Tribune): "A measure targeting a Turkish charter school network was added to major legislation from Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick that would increase the number of publicly funded, privately operated schools as it passed the Texas House on Thursday, 105-34."

•    House group has deal on immigration (Politico): "House immigration negotiators emerged from a meeting Thursday with an agreement 'in principle,' and plan to turn their attention to drafting a comprehensive reform bill. Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) made the announcement after the two-hour meeting. He declined to elaborate on the details of the deal."

•    ACLU slams amendment as 'discriminatory' (San Antonio Express-News): "An amendment tacked on to a higher education bill was criticized by progressive and gay rights groups Thursday as opening a path for college student groups to discriminate. The Republican author, however, argues the provision would strengthen student organizations and guarantee free speech."

Quote of the Day: "If this goes to the highest levels of the White House, then obviously there are a lot of options out there that are appropriate up to and including … the removal of individuals up to and including the president of the United States, if he is culpable.'' — Gov. Rick Perry to Newsmax on the IRS audit scandal

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