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Council OKs $6.9 million in fee waivers for state

Friday, June 23, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s long list of proposed topics for an upcoming special session of the Texas Legislature that look a lot like Austin bashing, City Council voted Thursday to allow staff to negotiate an interlocal agreement with the Texas Facilities Commission for participation in reconstruction of the area directly north of the Capitol.

Council members Ann Kitchen and Ora Houston voted against the motion that included waiving $6.9 million in utility tunnel easement and right-of-way usage fees. Council members Leslie Pool and Delia Garza abstained and Council Member Ellen Troxclair was absent.

Kitchen argued that the public had not had a chance to hear about the proposal and that postponing the item until August, when Council will hold its next meeting, would not damage the project. Only one member of the public, David King, who also serves on the Zoning and Platting Commission, spoke to Council about the item, and he supported Kitchen’s proposed postponement.

At Tuesday’s work session, Garza asked whether the $581 million reconstruction would include anything “that pumps the smell of freedom into the air?” She was referring to a recent speech by the governor in which he criticized Austin’s regulations.

At the same time, Pool said it would be difficult to find the funding since the legislature was trying so hard to keep Austin from raising taxes.

However, neither Garza nor Pool commented on the item Thursday. They no doubt got the message from Austin Sen. Kirk Watson, who told the Austin American-Statesman this week, “We have the opportunity here to transform the Capitol Complex into an open and inviting public space akin to the National Mall in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “There are a lot of things about which the city and state don’t see eye-to-eye. But the Capitol Complex shouldn’t be one of them.”

After Thursday’s vote, Watson told the Austin Monitor via email, “This was an important vote. It sends the message that the City Council is willing to act in good faith and work toward a common goal with the state. The Capitol Complex Master Plan, which this vote helps move forward, will be a wonderful asset for the people of Texas, including the good people of the Capitol City.”

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