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Jan. 13, 2009
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State Comptroller Releases Budget
from Window on State Government
Texas Comptroller Susan Combs today said the state can expect to have $77.1 billion available for general-purpose spending during the 2010-11 biennium. “Given the continuing turmoil in the national economy, auto industry, housing and financial markets, this is a cautious forecast,” Combs said. “Our wisest course is to exercise prudence, just as Texas families are doing during the economic downturn.” Combs’ Biennial Revenue Estimate (BRE) includes a $2.1 billion ending balance carried forward from the 2008-09 biennium, plus an estimated $76.7 billion in anticipated general-purpose revenue from taxes and other sources. Against this amount, an estimated $1.7 billion will be reserved for future transfers into the Rainy Day Fund, leaving the Legislature $77.1 billion for general-purpose spending as they write the 2010-11 state budget. More


Opening at the Dome: The Dramatics of the Texas State Legislature
from The Dallas Morning News
For a 140-day limited engagement, the Texas Legislature players begin their performance at noon today. The show under the Rotunda is always a balancing act – between House and Senate, revenue and spending, posturing and policy – and this year promises to be no different. Fans, critics and observers think this year's plot is likely to be a more traditional drama, a return from the 2007 Vaudeville-inspired show. In last season's cliffhanger, dozens of the session's biggest bills were tied to the railroad tracks and the House was being held hostage by Tom Craddick, who had replaced the parliamentarian with someone better able to read his script, including his belief that the speaker held "absolute power." More

Democratic Group Lays Groundwork for House Change
from The Austin American-Statesman
If Republican Tom Craddick ever makes a list of people to blame for the fact that his tenure as Texas House speaker officially ends today, he should include a Washington-based operative who is leading the effort to remake the Democratic Party in Texas. Matt Angle leads the Texas Democratic Trust, which since 2005 has poured millions of dollars into efforts to increase the staff of the state party and related groups, find credible candidates and pinpoint voters who might be sympathetic to the cause. The 87-63 majority that Republicans enjoyed in the Texas House in 2005 has shrunk to 76-74. More

Getting Down to Business: Legislature Will Have Hands Full
from The Dallas Morning News
Talk about illegal immigration has ebbed in the last year, but some Texas lawmakers aim to revive discussions by proposing more than a dozen bills that, among other things, would punish employers for hiring illegal workers and challenge the U.S. citizenship of illegal immigrants' U.S.-born children. Hit with middle-class concerns about the rising costs of a college education, Texas lawmakers soon will consider legislation that would temporarily freeze tuition at state universities. Proponents of expanded gambling in Texas will be back in full force this session, fighting for Las Vegas-style casinos, slot machines at racetracks, tribal gaming rights and legalized poker. In Texas the money spigot runs wide open. Unlike federal campaigns, state politicians can accept any amount, and numerous efforts over the years to put caps on contributions have gone nowhere. This session there are two different approaches: one would limit individuals to contributions of $2,000 per election cycle, while the other would cap annual contributions by individuals at $100,000. More

East Texas Lawmakers Pre-File Bills
from The Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Graffiti, taxes and tuition are among dozens of issues state lawmakers from the Coastal Bend already have addressed in bills they hope to pass when the legislature convenes in January. State representatives and senators began pre-filing bills Nov. 10 for the 81st Legislature, which begins Jan. 13. As of Friday, lawmakers had filed 728 bills, and members of the Coastal Bend delegation are keeping pace with their peers on getting would-be laws into the hopper. More

Texas Homeowners Might Get Property Tax, Insurance Relief from Legistlature
from The Dallas Morning News
Homeowners struggling to pay their property taxes and insurance bills – two of their biggest expenses – are looking to the Texas Legislature for relief. Lawmakers were reluctant to tackle such issues as runaway property appraisals and hefty insurance costs two years ago. But there may be some breakthroughs when they meet this year. For example, one Senate proposal would give cities and counties the right to levy up to a half-cent increase in the sales tax and use the revenue to reduce property taxes. More

Commentary: Big Donors Switching to Hutchison
from The Houston Chronicle
The looming showdown between Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison already is costing Perry some major political donors. Heavy GOP contributors who have comfortably supported both Perry and Hutchison for several years are having to choose sides now, and several are signaling that they believe Perry, who recently became Texas' longest serving governor, has overstayed his welcome. Beer distributor John Nau of Houston, who has given Perry almost $200,000 during his eight years as governor, is state finance chairman for Hutchison's exploratory committee, preparing for an anticipated challenge of the governor in next year's primary. Other longtime Perry donors signing recent fundraising letters for the senator include Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane, Houston investor Ned Holmes and oil and gas investor Louis Beecherl of Dallas, each of whom has given the governor more than $200,000 since 2001. More

Windstorm Fund Leading Issue at Texas Capital
from The Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Hurricane Ike was the big storm Texas officials feared would hit the coast. Now comes the hard task of paying for it. When lawmakers convene Tuesday, they'll face the financial devastation left by the Category 2 storm that walloped the upper Gulf Coast on Sept. 13, devastating Galveston and nearby counties. They'll look to restructure the state's windstorm insurance association, which is filling in the gap left by private insurers who stopped issuing policies in some Gulf coast counties, and consider whether to put money into a state disaster fund that Galveston officials found out the hard way was empty. More

Political Ambitions Will Tint Legislative Session
from The Austin American-Statesman
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas isn't expected in Austin much during the legislative session that starts Tuesday. But by saying she might quit her seat to run for governor next year, she set the scene for shows of political ambition at the Texas Capitol. Elbows-out jockeying could entwine a vast cast topped by GOP Gov. Rick Perry, who has said he'll seek a third term in 2010. Already, Hutchison and Perry are sniping, with their camps tangling over issues ranging from leadership skills — neither is impressed with the other's — to hot-button topics. For instance, Perry's campaign doubts Hutchison's anti-abortion bona fides, and Hutchison has disparaged Perry's vision of toll roads crisscrossing Texas. Both issues are likely to be in play this session. And as in any session, there's a risk that hot-button topics - such as requiring voters to present photo identification, which divided the 2007 Legislature - could take time from traditional focuses such as budget priorities. More

Housing Starts On Pace to Shrink Again in 2009
from The Houston Chronicle
The slump in new-home construction will continue into this year, with housing starts potentially falling to their lowest level in a decade. Houston-area developers are expected to build between 20,000 and 25,000 homes in 2009, housing analyst Mike Inselmann said Monday at his annual forecast presentation to members of the Greater Houston Builders Association. That’s down about 20 percent from last year. “2009 is going to be another equally difficult year in our industry in Houston,” said Inselmann, president of Houston-based Metrostudy. Indeed, the decline would mark the third consecutive year of falling home starts, which peaked at 50,000 in 2006. More

KB Home Posts Larger Losses Than Expected
from Bloomberg
KB Home, the fourth-largest U.S. homebuilder, reported a fourth-quarter loss exceeding analysts’ estimates, sending shares down as much as 14 percent, as the company predicted more pain for the housing market in 2009. The company had a net loss of $307.3 million, or $3.96 a share, compared with a median estimate of a loss of $96.9 million, or $1.19 a share, from 10 analysts polled by Bloomberg. The loss narrowed from $772.7 million, or $9.99 a share, a year earlier, Los Angeles-based KB Home said today in a statement. Revenue fell 56 percent $919 million. More

Dallas Group Hopes to Put Limits on Public Subsidies to Private Developers
from The Dallas Morning News
Dallas Right to Vote’s lawyer, Deborah Deitsch-Perez, says that the organization plans to submit more than 20,000 registered Dallas voter signatures to Dallas City Hall, potentially triggering a May City Charter amendment vote regarding public subsidies to private developers. More

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