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The Brief: Oct. 14, 2015

A sustained drop in oil prices has caused a slowdown in drilling and production in Texas, a phenomenon acknowledged by Glenn Hegar, the state's comptroller, on Tuesday.

State Comptroller Glenn Hegar releases the revenue estimate on Jan. 12, 2015 to reporters and state officials the day before…

The Big Conversation

A sustained drop in oil prices has caused a slowdown in drilling and production in Texas, a phenomenon acknowledged by Glenn Hegar, the state's comptroller, on Tuesday.

As reported by the Tribune's Aman Batheja, Hegar revised downward his estimate of state revenues for the current two-year budget cycle by $2.6 billion to reflect the impact of the downturn in the energy sector on both the oil and gas severance tax and the state sales tax.

Hegar is facing a challenge common to the state's chief revenue estimator — trying to know in advance where the price of this crucial global commodity will be over the next couple of years.

Batheja writes, "Two years ago, then-Comptroller Susan Combs found a Texas oil drilling boom bringing in state revenue far faster than expected. In his first year in office, Hegar has faced the opposite problem, trying to predict how far drilling and production — and with it, state revenue — will fall due to the plummeting price of oil."

Last January, Hegar estimated that the price of a barrel of oil would average between $65 and $75 over the next couple of years. On Tuesday, he said the commodity's price would average a bit less than $45 this fiscal year and close to $51 in the second year of the state's budget cycle.

Hegar tried to put the best face on the news, saying, “I personally think the real headline is that it’s amazing that despite the lower revenues coming in from oil, and those numbers, this economy continues to tick along.”

Indeed, the state is still projected to run a surplus of $4.22 billion even with the lowered revenue estimate. And the Rainy Day Fund is projected to hit a record balance of $10.4 billion, although that's lower than what had been projected in January. The more difficult question to answer, though, is how decreased revenues will affect lawmakers' budgetary decisions next session on priorities like education and health care.

Trib Must Reads

High Court Might Clarify Water and Surface Rights, by Kiah Collier – With developers, water marketers and others gobbling up Texas acreage to secure groundwater rights, the state's highest civil court is set to consider what rights surface landowners have to protect them from unfettered development of water pumping operations on their land. 

Analysis: Compensating for a Loss on Campus Carry Law, by Ross Ramsey – Campus carry opponents lost their fight to keep guns off of state college and university grounds, so now they're making fun of the people who want to carry guns on campus. With sex toys. The second stage of this political theater won't be boring.

Cruz Skeptical of Ending Military Transgender Ban, by Patrick Svitek – The U.S. armed forces should not serve as a "cauldron for social experiments" U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in Iowa, expressing skepticism about the military's move to end its ban on transgender soldiers.

Texas Longhorns Mascot Bevo Has Retired, by Matthew Watkins – Bevo XIV, the Longhorn mascot for the University of Texas at Austin, was diagnosed with bovine leukemia virus last week and was unable to attend the weekend's surprising Longhorns football win over Oklahoma.

Dan Patrick Asks Senators to Study Fetal Tissue, by Edgar Walters – Fetal tissue used for scientific research tops the list of topics Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has asked Texas senators on the Health and Human Services Committee to study before the Legislature reconvenes in 2017.

Lehmberg Sues to Block Records of Deal With Insurer, by Jay Root and Tony Plohetski, Austin American-Statesman –Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg is suing to block the release of records about a controversial agreement that allows a giant insurance company to pay her office more than $400,000 a year to investigate the insurer’s fraud cases.

University of Houston to Host GOP Debate in February, by Matthew Watkins – The University of Houston announced Tuesday that it will host the Republican presidential debate scheduled for Feb. 26. 

Paul Camp Fiercely Guards Liberty Base as Cruz Looms, by Patrick Svitek – The presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is fiercely guarding its libertarian base against GOP rival Ted Cruz.  

The Day Ahead

•    Texas First Lady Cecilia Abbott will attend and speak at the 18th annual State of Texas Breast Cancer Awareness Day, held on the Capitol’s south steps, at 10 a.m. 

•    Head to KRLU's Studio 6A in Austin this afternoon or watch the livestream of a taping of Overheard with Evan Smith featuring Ambassador Ron Kirk. The event starts at 3 p.m., and an RSVP is required. Earlier in the day, the Center for Public Policy Priorities is honoring Kirk at their Legacy Luncheon where DREAM Act activist Karla Perez will also be recognized with the Future of Texas Award. The event takes place at the JW Marriott Hotel in downtown Austin beginning at 11:30 a.m.

•    Gov. Greg Abbott plans to dine with some of Smith County’s Republicans for their Smith County Republican Party Dinner. He will give a speech at the event, held at the Willow Brook Country Club in Tyler at 7:30 p.m.

Elsewhere

T. Boone Pickens, Jeb Bush's Billionaire Backer, Bets on Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, NBC News

Hillary Clinton Turns Up Heat on Bernie Sanders in a Sharp Debate, The New York Times

While Waiting for Ryan, Would-Be Speakers Weigh Bids, Roll Call

Fired employee sues to remove Dallas County DA from office, The Dallas Morning-News

Harris DA's office responds to allegations of withholding evidence, Houston Chronicle 

Turner's work for public agencies comes under fire, Houston Chronicle 

Transportation projects to take a hit as comptroller reduces state revenue projection by billions, San Antonio Express-News

Planned Parenthood to stop accepting payment for fetal tissue, Houston Chronicle

One-third of uninsured Texans could but don’t accept help in getting covered, The Dallas Morning-News

52 UT psychology professors sign statement against campus carry, Austin American-Statesman

Ethics panel: Zimmerman violated campaign finance rules, Austin American-Statesman

Quote to Note

"How about having a military focusing on hunting down and killing bad guys? I think that should be the focus of the military instead of treating it as this, like, crucible for social justice innovations."

–U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz on the end of the military's ban on transgender soldiers

Today in TribTalk

In wake of Oregon tragedy, gun control activists miss the point, by Antonia Okafor – The renewed campus carry debate at the University of Texas at Austin is just the latest example of the cognitive disconnect demonstrated by gun-control activists in Texas who have no problem seeing a movie at a theater, shopping at a mall or worshipping at a church that allows concealed carry — but are absolutely terrified of stepping into a classroom that does the same.

News From Home

•    It’s day six of our Fall Member Drive, and we’re raffling two tickets to The Texas Tribune Festival and private opening reception today! Join now for your chance to win.

•     The fifth-annual Texas Tribune Festival is just TWO days away! Join us at texastribune.org/festival

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    A Conversation with Political Commentator Paul Begala on Oct. 15 in Austin

•    The Texas Tribune Festival on Oct. 16-18 at the University of Texas at Austin

•    A Conversation with Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht on Oct. 29 in Austin

•    A daylong higher education symposium on Nov. 16 at Baylor University in Waco

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