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Texas Enters 82nd Legislative Session With $15 Billion Shortfall

By Jack Fink, CBS 11 News
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The Texas State Capitol building. (credit: Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty Images)

The Texas State Capitol building. (credit: Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty Images)

AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM) – On Monday, the day before state lawmakers are sworn in for the 82nd Legislative Session, Comptroller Susan Combs announced Texas faces a $15 billion budget shortfall.

According to Combs, lawmakers will have $72.2 billion to spend for the 2012-2013 budget, which is about $15 billion less than the $87 billion budget in 2010-2011.

“This is the new reality,” said Senator Florence Shapiro (R-Plano.)

And that reality weighs heavily on schools, roads, healthcare and border security: But what will face the budget axe and what won’t?

Shapiro said leaders must re-evaluate everything that goes into the state’s budget.

“This is not the time for adding taxes, to start adding fees to start looking at new programs,” she said.

But Democratic lawmakers believe the state’s budget shortfall is actually close to $27 billion, since Texas now has to include its increased population. And officials, including District 103 State Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas), believe the state can’t turn its back on the poor.

“I’m going to fight to protect children’s health care insurance, senior care and public education,” he said. “We need to take care of people who are most vulnerable in the state. That’s central to what Texas is all about.”

And just feet from the state Capitol, another political drama unfolded: House Republicans debated who will preside as speaker.

While Republicans caucused behind closed doors, more than 100 members of the Tea Party rallied for District 70 Rep. Ken Paxton (R – McKinney). Tea Party member Katrina Pierson said Paxton is more conservative than current House Speaker Joe Straus (R – San Antonio). Paxton was not available for comment.

“Eleven Republicans changed sides last session and voted with Democrats, so our Speaker Joe Straus was elected by Democrats,” Pierson said.

But in the end, 70 of 100 House Republicans believed Straus is conservative enough.

“I am pleased going into the caucus, I had pledged support of an overwhelming majority,” Straus said.

But that’s not final yet. Tuesday at noon, when members are sworn in, both Republicans and Democrats in the House will vote on a speaker. But with the Republican supermajority – there are about 101 Republicans compared to 49 Democrats in the House – it’s being thought of as a done deal.

While Democratic lawmakers CBS 11 spoke with said they and their votes are still relevant, Republicans point out that Texas residents spoke loud and clear in November, and it shows in the supermajority.

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