Yesterday at a District 2 event I had the opportunity to ask City CFO Robert Cortinas two questions, and you may view the video of our exchange here:
1. Given the fact that the City of El Paso holds the Texas record for outstanding CO debt and has accumulated more per-capita CO debt than the five largest cities in Texas combined, and given that our City Council just authorized another $189M since April, and given that since 2014 our City property tax has risen by 38% to $0.91 per $100 of valuation, how will all this new debt impact our property tax going forward?
Mr. Cortinas did not answer the question but instead explained the benefits of issuing the debt, such as replacing more expensive bond debt with lower-interest debt and paying for stuff that voters want, like street repairs. He was unmoved by the fact that Dallas has only $7.6M in CO debt and Houston has $14.1M, compared to the $757.7M that the City of El Paso has issued or authorized.
2. “Do you have any concerns, Sir, about our levels of CO debt?”
Mr. Cortinas took more than two minutes to respond, again extolling the virtues of deficit spending and claiming that millions will be saved by paying off older, more expensive debt, while ignoring the fact that COs are essentially the City Council representatives’ blank checks for spending however much they want on whatever they want, for whatever reason they want.
I am grateful to Rep. Alexsandra Annello for generously hosting Mr. Cortinas, but while I support many of her key positions, I am not grateful to her for authorizing $489,250,000 in COs since 2017, not far behind the $504,800,000 that Reps. Svarzbein, Hernandez and Rivera authorized since elected.
The City has embraced the position that the end justifies the means. The voters want all kinds of stuff so our City government should give it to them no matter how much debt we incur and no matter how high our property tax rate rises as a result.
And then there are the developers who want their TIRZes, 380 agreements and other corporate welfare, and yes, they want us to pay for their Ballpark, multipurpose basketball Arena and whatever else, all of which severely deplete the City’s revenue streams. The City will give them what they want, too, and push infrastructure spending and even cost overruns on QOL bond projects into COs rather than promoting new bond propositions that the voters will reject.
Welcome to El Paso, Taxus.