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Workman the Incumbent — Sort of — in HD-47 Primary

Changes in Texas' legislative maps have created opportunities for those hoping to knock off incumbent lawmakers — like in HD-47 in western Travis County. Ben Philpott reports for KUT News and the Tribune.

State Rep. Paul Workman and his GOP primary challenger Ryan Downton.

Nearly 40 percent of House District 47's residents are new to the district, thanks to the new election maps passed by the Legislature last year. That means even the incumbent — Republican Paul Workman — is a first-time candidate to people who were represented by Democrat Donna Howard under the old maps.

"And so there's a little bit of an education process," Workman said. "'Well, she technically is still is your representative, but you're gonna get a new one.'"

Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News

That means extra campaigning and block walking for Workman. And extra hope for his challenger, Ryan Downton, a candidate who's pushing his conservative credentials in a district made more Republican by redistricting. 

It's a district that Downton says remains strained with infrastructure needs, even under its new configuration.

"There are a lot of challenges facing any high-growth area," he said. "But we don't want to be expanding taxes to deal with those problems."

Downton believes keeping taxes low will let the private sector do what’s needed to help the district and the state.

"We've got a great free market system in Texas. The areas that are poised for expansive growth often have developers very interested in working on projects," Downton said. "So I think there is private money to take care of a lot of those issues."

One of those issues is roads. The area needs new ones, but there’s no money from the state to build them. Workman said the lack of funds comes in part because the state’s gas tax hasn’t been raised in decades. "I don't propose that we increase the gas tax," Workman said. "However, we're going to have to look at how we fund roads, and we're going to have to deal with that issue relatively soon."

He points to hybrid vehicles, electric cars and other fue- efficient options as reasons why gas tax revenue is down. Billions of dollars in gas taxes have been diverted to other parts of the state budget, which means local money will have to take the lead. Like the millions of dollars being cobbled together in Hays and Travis counties in the hopes of funding the long-awaited State Highway 45 Southwest.

"The state doesn't have the money. And the reality is that they don't have the money. Should they? That's debatable. Everyone's going to have their own opinion on that," Workman said. "But I certainly believe that we're a nation of people who like to roll up our sleeves and get things done. I think that's what needs to happen in this case. We just need to take the bull by the horns and get it done."

Downton is also against raising the gas tax. But he thinks there is state money for roads. It’s just tied up in a state agency that's not funding the right projects.

"High growth areas in the state, to me, should be getting priority from TxDOT in where they decide to allocate their limited resources," Downton said. "And I'm not sure at this time they are prioritizing that particular project as high as they need to."

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