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Highlights from around the Capitol

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By The Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - A Texas House draft budget that would pull funding from statewide standardized tests likely won't be approved, but it's the first time in recent memory lawmakers have tried such a move - and it may even violate federal rules if it ever were to become law.

The proposal also foretells a larger legislative debate brewing on the overall importance of testing in Texas schools.

"I think legislators and the public want to have a broad discussion about testing and this one way to force it," Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, said Tuesday.

The proposed 2014-15 House budget contains nothing but zeros for the standardized test known as the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR. It is designed to be more difficult than previous tests, which has caused uproar in some educational circles since students began taking it last school year.

A preliminary Senate budget, however, lists about $94 million annually for testing.

The two proposals will be merged in coming months, and what the Legislature actually passes will look very different from what has been proposed. Still, Ratcliffe said Texas has been giving standardized tests since 1980, and she couldn't recall a time either chamber had made such a move, even symbolically.

 

DEWHURT DOWNPLAYS BUDGET FREEZE ON BUSINESS FUNDS

Gov. Rick Perry likes bragging that Texas is open for business, but the state budget on the table suggests the trough of taxpayer dollars for private companies may be drying up.

Budget proposals lawmakers laid out this week include no new money for Perry's signature business incentive programs, the Emerging Technology Fund and the Texas Enterprise Fund. Nor is there money earmarked for the beleaguered Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, which has given about $96 million since 2010 to private startups, in addition to hundreds of millions more for research.

Lawmakers also froze out the tech and enterprise funds in the 2011 session, but did let the programs carry over unused money.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Tuesday downplayed the significance of both the House and Senate beginning budget talks this time with no new dollars in the pipeline again.

"I think there's an appetite among our Texas lawmakers to continue to provide the adequate business incentives so that companies continue to locate here and that new technology is delivered," Dewhurst said. "I understand there has been criticism of different programs - some of which I think is unwarranted, and some of which I think could use some more transparency."

 

PERRY HAS $6M ON-HAND AFTER RAISING $3.5M IN LATE 2012

Texas Gov. Rick Perry raised a bit more than $3.5 million between July and December, pushing his campaign cash-on-hand to more than $6 million.

The Republican took office in December 2000 and is the longest serving governor in state history. But Perry says he won't announce until this summer whether he will seek a fourth full term.

In the meantime, he has remained a prodigious fundraiser, taking in $3,554,046 from June 30 through December 8, 2012. Perry's campaign said Tuesday it now has $6,028,635 in cash on-hand.

Attorney General Greg Abbott, also a Republican, is widely rumored to be mulling a run for governor. His campaign reported raising more than $4.1 million between July 1 and Dec. 31.

Abbott now has over an impressive $18 million in cash on-hand.

 

LEGISLATURE ADJOURNS FOR ONE WEEK

A week after opening for business, the Texas Legislature is taking a week off.

Both the House and the Senate stand adjourned until Jan. 23. Both chambers are taking the extended break to accommodate lawmakers attending President Barack Obama's inauguration in Washington.

 

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

"Mario was taken too soon. But let me assure each and every 1 of you, he got all there was to give out of every day on earth." - Democratic Sen. John Whitmire, remembering the late Sen. Mario Gallegos. The Houston Democrat died in October, and his family sat at his Senate desk Tuesday while lawmakers took turns honoring Gallegos.

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