Today the Community First Coalition of El Paso hosted candidates for City Districts 1 and 8 at the Sacred Heart Church Gymnasium. Each candidate was asked nine questions, followed by Q & A.
I was handed the microphone first, so I directed my questions to Analisa Cordova Silverstein, candidate for District 1, and Bettina Olivares, candidate for District 8.
I began by stating that Rep. Peter Svarzbein of District 1 voted to raise our City property tax five times since he took office July 6, 2015 and authorized $504,800,000 in certificates of obligation, which is debt issued without voter approval. Rep. Cissy Lizarraga of District 8 voted for six property tax hikes since she took office July 25, 2017 and authorized $389,000,000 in certificates of obligation.
I pointed out that El Paso has the highest property tax among major Texas cities and the third highest among the 50 largest cities in America, thanks in large part to the steady increase in our City property tax since 2014.
In my recent guest column for the El Paso Times, I showed that El Pasoans are now responsible for paying $762,613,542 in principal and interest on ten COs that the City has issued since 2012, not including the principal and interest on the $96 million CO that was authorized in August.
I asked Silverstein and Olivares if they would have supported these property tax hikes and if they are in favor of issuing certificates of obligation. I asked them specifically what they would have done differently from Reps. Svarzbein and Lizarraga.
You can view their replies here.
Silverstein refused to answer my question about whether she would have supported Svarzbein’s property tax votes but indicated that she is against issuing certificates of obligation for non-emergency purposes. Of course, she supports all the City’s insolvent entertainment projects, including those that have been paid for in part by COs.
Olivares’ reply to my property tax question was extremely dishonest. Like her boss Cassandra Hernandez, she cited the fact that the City property tax rate remained the same for three years in a row and will now drop by more than four cents, when she knows perfectly well that the increase in property valuations means that El Pasoans have faced property tax increases every year since 2017. I refer her to the chart in Bob Moore’s recent report for El Paso Matters. She also states that the City portion of our property tax is “only” 29% of our total property tax bill without mentioning that it has increased far faster than the taxes imposed by the other four taxing entities. The voters deserve to hear the truth from her about our property tax, not Cassandra’s mendacious talking points.
Her answer to my question about COs was muddled and contradictory. She began by saying that the City has used them “a bit more than they should” but then went on to say that she supports using them for streets and other projects. Very dishonestly, she stated that most Texas cities issue COs but did not mention that we have the highest per capita CO debt in Texas history: $769 for every man, woman and child in El Paso. She even argued “to not use them I think is irresponsible.” She suggested that because the City’s CO issuances have been under $100 million each that somehow that is okay since they are less costly than general obligation bonds that have gone out to the voters for approval.
El Pasoans cannot afford Silverstein and Olivares and instead support Brian Kennedy for District 1 and Rich Wright for District 8, both of whom are appalled by our current levels of taxation and CO debt.
El Pasoans should also reject incumbents Isabel Salcido and Claudia Lizette Rodriguez, who are lackeys for the billionaire developers, and instead cast their votes for Richard Genera for District 5 and Art Fierro for District 6.
Silverstein and Olivares on the record: