- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Tax cut promises from Republicans began taking firmer shape Tuesday when Senate leaders unveiled a draft budget that would deliver $3 billion in property relief to Texas homeowners.

Still missing are the details on how the Senate would pull that off - and how much it might actually knock off the average property tax bill. When the Legislature last made sweeping tax cuts in 2006, about $7 billion in annual property tax relief was passed, which experts say shaved about 20 percent off the average bill.

Those cuts blew a massive hole in the budget and property taxes in economically booming Texas have kept ballooning. That has made tax relief a priority from Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on down, including among some Democrats.

The House didn’t include tax relief in its first spending plan, but a surplus of $7.5 billion has left lawmakers with spending flexibility.

“I believe the House wants tax relief. We just spelled it out very clearly,” Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said.

Despite falling oil prices in a state heavily dependent on energy production, Texas’ comptroller has predicted economic growth will continue and offered a relatively sanguine estimate of state revenues over the next two years, which is the basis for both the Senate and House budgets.

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OPEN CARRY SHUTDOWN

After pledging in his campaign to fight for open carry of handguns in Texas, Patrick now says it’s not a priority and doesn’t have the votes to pass.

The issue seemed to be gaining strong momentum for the 2015 session with support from Gov. Greg Abbott and top Republicans who swept into office in November. But Patrick doused the hopes of gun rights advocates with his remarks Tuesday at a forum hosted by the Texas Tribune.

Patrick said “open carry doesn’t reach the level” of the Republican-dominated chamber’s other priorities, such as the state budget and public education.

Texas hasn’t allowed open carry of handguns since immediately after the Civil War. Several bills had been filed this session to allow open carry, ranging from requiring a license to letting anyone carry a handgun in public, also known as “constitutional carry.” While most have been filed in the House, at least two have been filed in the Senate.

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NO WATCHDOG

The Senate draft budget doesn’t include any state money for the Travis County Public Integrity Unit, which investigates cases of government corruption.

On Tuesday, a state district judge refused former Gov. Rick Perry’s request to dismiss an indictment related to his 2013 veto of money for the investigative unit. A Travis County grand jury last year charged Perry with felony abuse of official power and coercion of a public servant.

Perry is expected to announce another campaign for president and his lawyers filed notice they would appeal the ruling.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Continued prosecution of Governor Perry is an outrage and sets a dangerous precedent in our Democracy.” - Perry attorney Tony Buzbee on judge’s decision to allow indictment to stand.

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