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Legislature opens Jan. 11 with budget issues heavy and present

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Ed Sterling
January 18, 2011 | 1,993 views | Post a comment

AUSTIN --- The 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature commenced Jan. 11 with high spirits and rousing speeches, coupled with the gravity of a never-deeper budget deficit for the freshly sworn-in lawmakers to deal with, and an interstate call for solemn reflection.

On Jan. 10, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs delivered the biennial state revenue estimate for budget years 2012-13. Combs’ estimate shows the state is projected to have about $72 billion available for general-purpose spending during the 2012-13 biennium.

That means lawmakers, even with a steadily improving economy in the forecast, will have about $27 billion worth of hole to fill in order for the state to maintain its current level of services to a growing population. And that suggests the likelihood of a combination of taxation and fee adjustments and cutbacks in state services.

State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, said the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee, which he chairs, may have to consider state worker terminations and furloughs as possible ways to help offset the lower state revenue projection.

Meanwhile, questions over who would be the next speaker of the Texas House were largely answered in a Republican caucus on Jan. 10, in which incumbent speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, received 70 votes out of a possible 101. On Jan. 11, when the whole House voted, Straus won by a wide margin over challenger Ken Paxton, R-McKinney.

Solemn reflection: both the House and Senate, in their opening ceremonies, observed moments of silence in honor of the dead and wounded, and their loved ones, in the Jan. 8 shooting in Tucson, Ariz. A gunman fired into a crowd at a "Congress on Your Corner" public event, critically wounding U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 13 other people and killing U.S. District Judge John Roll and five other people. The shooting suspect, identified as 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, was captured while reloading his 9 mm handgun. He is in custody.

Hutchison won’t run in 2012

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison last week announced she would not seek another term in office.

Her announcement prompted media questions to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who earlier had signaled his interest in succeeding Hutchison, if she were to step down or not seek reelection.

Dewhurst, who presides over the state Senate, answered that his hands are full with the current legislative session but did not rule out a run for the U.S. Senate seat when the time comes.

Bill White, former mayor of Houston and Democratic gubernatorial candidate said he would not be a candidate for the Senate seat to be filled when Hutchison completes her term of office.

Besides Dewhurst, other Republicans that have emerged as likely candidates for the Senate seat are Texas Railroad Commissioners Michael L. Williams and Elizabeth Ames Jones.

Perry names emergency items

Gov. Rick Perry, during opening ceremonies in the House and Senate, designated as emergency items the protection of private property rights and abolishing sanctuary cities in the Lone Star State.

Eminent domain issues in recent years came into play over Perry’s vision of a TransTexas Corridor that would have required the taking of a 1,000-foot wide swath of land from Laredo to Oklahoma. Public input stopped or placed on hold the corridor plan.

Sanctuary cities are those in which officials do not inquire about a person's immigration status.

Perry also reminded lawmakers of his commitment to balancing the state budget without raising taxes by prioritizing and cutting government spending.

AG calls for security action

Texas Attorney General Abbott on Jan. 14 publicized a letter he wrote to the chairs of the U.S. House and Senate homeland security committee chairs, regarding shots fired from Mexico at a road construction crew working in rural West Texas on Jan. 13.

In his letter, Abbott urges Congress to conduct a full investigation and hearings and to take action to enhance security along the U.S-Mexico border.

A Jan. 14 news release from the attorney general’s office’s was worded this way: "Abbott’s demand for a federal investigation comes after at least four incidents where bullets from Mexico have crossed the border, putting at risk the safety and security of Texas residents."
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