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House Head Budget Writer: Chambers "Very Close" on Budgets

Also, the Senate Finance chief files a graduate medical education bill and more ominous news on oil prices.

Rep. John Otto R-Dayton, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, during Tribune Conversation event on February 12th,…

The House’s lead budget writer, John Otto, R-Dayton, shed some light Thursday on the developing timetable on producing the next budget.

“I would say that probably by the end of this month, first week in March, you’ll begin to get a feel on where the House is going on spending,” he said in a conversation with Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith.

He added, “Obviously, the Senate seems to be moving much faster this go around than the House is on appropriations.”

With that said, Otto said the two chambers are not too far apart on spending levels.

After factoring for things like the Senate including tax relief in its budget planning, the chambers are $360 million apart.

“Both chambers are very close on the introduced bills,” Otto said. “Now, are there differences in the allocation of those numbers? Yes. Definitely. And those will be worked out as we go forward.”

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Senate Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, filed legislation on Wednesday aimed at further decreasing the gap between the number medical school graduates produced by the state and the number of residency slots available to them.

Lawmakers have concentrated for the past few legislative sessions on the residency portion of the training pipeline for producing new doctors. A relative lack of slots is leading many medical school graduates to leave Texas for their residencies, making it less likely that they will practice here.

SB 18 would use an additional $60 million written into the Senate base budget to encourage residencies in practice areas with the highest demand across the state and in rural and underserved areas.

Also, SB 18 would spend more on existing programs aimed at increasing the number of family and primary care doctors.

The legislation would create an additional $300 million source for funding future expansion of medical residencies through the elimination of the Texas Medical Liability Insurance Underwriting Association.

Nelson’s efforts build on her legislation from last session that created 83 new residency slots.

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A plunge in oil prices won’t shrink Texas’ economy, but it will slow growth, Moody’s Investors Service said in a report Monday. That slower growth will intensify competition between advocates wrangling for a slice of the state’s revenue pie.

Unsurprisingly, the report said, Houston, Midland and Odessa “will feel more economic strain” than other major metro areas across Texas.

In a note to investors on Monday, Citgroup lowered its forecast of average WTI prices in 2015 from $54 to $46 per barrel, according to the Economic Times. That note included this ominous quote: “It’s impossible to call a bottom point, which could, as a result of oversupply and the economics of storage, fall well below $40 a barrel for West Texas Intermediate (WTI), perhaps as low as the $20 range for a while," the investment bank reportedly said.

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