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2007-09-27

Macias reports possible surprise for TxDOT

By Judith Pannebaker

Texas State District 73 Rep. Nathan Macias breezed into Bandera County on Friday, Sept. 14, to address the local Board of Realtors at their regularly scheduled luncheon held at the meeting room at Bandera Downs.

After offering a requisite update on the 80th legislature, Macias launched into an Q & A session, dropping what could conceivably be a bombshell.

To a series of questions regarding the state’s current mobility crises, Macias indicated the next legislative session may hold a few surprises for personnel with the Texas Department of Transportation.

So long, TxDOT?

One realtor asked Macias, “The Texas Youth Commission has been called ‘a broken agency.’ Do you feel TxDOT is also a broken agency?”

“TxDOT is up for ‘sunset review’ every 12 years,” he replied. “In that review, the agency can be reorganized and reformed.” Macias went on to say there is a move to introduce an omnibus sunset bill against TxDOT in the 81st legislative session.
He clearly is not pleased with recent performances from the mega-agency and its personnel, especially regarding leadership issues in the transportation commission. “I think you will see significant legislative changes dealing with the operation of the department,” he predicted.

“As an engineer, I worked with TxDOT for many years,” Macias said. “Previously, I think TxDOT was a well-run public service agency, but lately I believe it has gone in the wrong direction. It was not meant to be a political arm and political shield.

“TxDOT has an $8 billion annual budget. That’s a lot of employees and a lot of money. To me, a bigger agency equates to a more bureaucratic and sluggish agency. (The legislature) needs to make it more responsive and ‘fleet-of-foot’.”

However, when asked about the move afoot to sunset the mega-mobility agency, an unnamed attorney in Austin predicted the legislature would use the threat of restructuring TxDOT as a way to impose needed charges.

TTC funding

Macias also fielded a question regarding funding for the controversial Trans Texas Corridor.

The TTC, a connecting network of super-highways, was designed to offer parallel links of toll ways, rails and utility lines. In addition, the proposed tolled portion of the TTC would include separate truck and passenger lanes.

Macias described a TTC merging with a transportation network that stretched from Mexico through the nation’s heartland to the Canadian border.

Construction of the TTC will be financed partially through private investors, who will then collect tolls imposed on the super-highways. One specific international company mentioned repeatedly is the Spanish conglomerate, Cintra-Zachry.

Addressing future mobility in the Lone Star State, Macias explained the reasoning behind seeking foreign investors in America’s infrastructure. “It’s a matter of what I call ‘impatient’ money verses ‘patient’ money,” he said. “’Patient’ money can wait 30 years to get a return on their initial investment.” He indicated Europeans - with their centuries of civilization behind them - had more of a capacity for patience than Americans.

“For this reason, foreign investors are more inclined to invest in the United States,” Macias continued. “Politicians consider it the ‘path of least resistance’.”

Regarding toll roads, he said he was not opposed to imposing tolls on new roads to underwrite construction and maintenance. However, Macias remained adamantly against tolling completed highways as a means to finance road construction in other parts of the state.

He regarded Congress’ allowing of trucks from Mexico to travel beyond the previous 25-mile limit as a means to “speed up commerce.”

Mo’ authority - NOT!

Changing gears, Macias responded to a question about the likelihood of counties receiving broad-based increased authority to control - and limit - development. He reminded the assembly he had co-sponsored a bill with Texas State District 53 Rep. Harvey Hilderbran that would have givencounties increased regulatory authority.

“We introduced the bill and it went nowhere,” he said. “The mood on the House floor is not to allow counties to have increased authority.” Macias attributed the legislators’ attitude as a protection of personal property rights.

He said he had the unique ability to see both sides of this particular coin.

“On one hand, I live in an unincorporated area of Comal County and a lot of folks moved to the county to get out from rules and restrictions,” he said. On the other hand, however, Macias represents Bandera, Comal, Kendall and Kerr counties, all ranked within the top 15 fastest growing counties in Texas.

“In addition, they have all been designated as Priority Groundwater Management Areas,” he said. Macias felt that a trigger mechanism, such as water issues, should be designated to allow counties an increased regulatory authority. “The difficult question will be increased (county) authority ‘for what’ and for ‘how much’?” Macias noted.

A man’s castle - Doctrine

One participant asked if he believed the legislature would ever extend the principles behind Texas’ so-called “Castle Doctrine” to cover a rancher protecting his land.

Replying in the negative, Macias said, “It’s a matter of a dwelling being defined as a home, vehicle and place of business verses open land. On open ranch or farm land, the matter becomes an issue of residential trespassing.”

As a type of justifiable homicide, the “Castle Doctrine” designates a person’s residence, as well as other specific areas, as a place in which he is protected from illegal trespassing and violent attack. It gives a person the legal right to use deadly force to defend his “castle” from violent attack - without fear of prosecution or civil lawsuits.

As a parting promise of sorts, Macias hoped to increase state funding to address Bandera County’s local road woes.