El Paso cannot afford City Rep. Cassandra Hernandez: Max Grossman

Max Grossman

Guest columnist
Published 6:00 a.m. MT Aug. 17, 2023

City Rep. Cassandra Hernandez’ recent guest column in these pages bragged about the City Council vote on July 31 to not increase our city property tax, suggesting this was made possible by “visionary leadership” and a “spirit of innovation and responsibility.”

Anyone who follows El Paso politics knows that it was Interim City Manager Cary Westin, Mayor Oscar Leeser, and Reps. Brian Kennedy, Joe Molinar, Isabel Salcido, and Art Fierro who championed the no-new-revenue tax rate for FY 2023-24.

The truth is that Hernandez is one of the reasons why our city tax has risen faster than those of the four other local taxing entities since she assumed office in June 2017.

Before this year, she voted for six property tax hikes in a row, in 20172018201920202021, and 2022, helping to ensure that El Pasoans would bear one of the highest overall tax burdens in Texas.

Hernandez laments the sharp increase in property valuations, though she recommended increasing them at a City Council meeting in 2018: “It would be in our best interests, including every taxing entity, to ensure that all of the homes are being appraised at a higher level so that we can see more valuations and more tax revenue.”

Hernandez also voted for every certificate of obligation that came before her, including $100 million in January 2019, $100 million in January 2020, $93 million in April 2021, and $96 million in August 2021.She voted to expend CO funds for cost overruns on the Quality of Life Bond projects, vastly exceeding the figures stated on the November 2012 ballot: $22.9 million in August 2017, $15.5 million for the Eastside Sports Complex in December 2017, $20.8 million for the Children’s Museum in July 2018, and $10.8 million for the Mexican-American Cultural Center in September 2018.

Even worse, in March 2020 Hernandez voted to amend Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone 13, located on the 2,313 acres acquired by Paul Foster in the controversial Great Wolf Lodge land swap, forgiving 75% of city property tax for 50 years and denying the General Fund untold future revenue. Yet in her column she gleefully cites the savings from “modifications” to TIRZ 10A and Transportation Reinvestment Zone 2, which she neither conceived nor promoted.

Let us also remember that Hernandez was among the city’s most committed supporters of building a 15,000-seat arena in Duranguito, which the city’s own consultants admit would have gone more than $300 million over budget.

She is proud of the 2019 Public Safety Bond, a $413 million wish list that her husband Jeremy Jordan was paid $20,000 to promote, and the $273 million Community Progress Bond, which funds street resurfacing and other items that are supposed to be covered by the General Fund.

If this were not enough, Hernandez announced last month that she wants to issue a new quality of life bond, even as the city is scheduled to issue $600 million in voter-approved debt over the next five years.

The votes and policy positions of Hernandez are concerning to fiscal conservatives like myself, who fear for our city’s financial future and advocate for less debt and taxation; but what is truly disturbing is her abuse of her city gas card, which resulted in a Letter of Reprimand from the Ethics Review Commission on July 24.

The letter states that Hernandez, who spent $6,691 on her gas card in 2022 alone and repeatedly lent it to her husband, used her position “to secure unwarranted privileges for [herself], relatives or others” and that the misuse was “intentional.”

Let us be grateful that our city’s new leadership is taking us in a new and positive fiscal direction and that Hernandez will term out on Jan. 7, 2025.

Max Grossman is an El Paso homeowner and taxpayer.