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Public wants two major areas of budget protected.

Voters want lawmakers to spare public education and health care programs for children and lower-income families from spending cuts during the legislative session that starts this week, according to a new poll commissioned by the Austin American-Statesman and other newspapers.

Most voters also support an expansion of legalized gambling and keeping a limit on class sizes in elementary schools, while they do not want guns on university campuses.

The responses highlight the challenge awaiting lawmakers in the 140-day regular session that begins Tuesday. They must balance a state budget with a major money shortfall — estimated at $24 billion — caused by the national economic slowdown, a costly reduction in property taxes five years ago and the disappearance of billions of one-time federal stimulus dollars.

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