A Rose By Any Other Name

Here’s a story from KVIA:

El Paso City Council members have approved spending more than a million dollars to renovate the 17th floor of the historic ‘Blue Flame’ building. City representatives said the goal is to add office meeting space and get more civic engagement. The city said tax dollars are not being used for the renovation. 

If they’re not using tax dollars, they must be using money they raised from the those City Bake Sales, right? The jingle jangle they take from parking meters? Bridge tolls?

Whatever the source of that money, that money is money that the City could use instead of asking us for more tax dollars.

Government is a money-losing proposition. Ideally, the taxes we pay are justified by services the City provides.

In El Paso, not so much, unless you’re a developer, or contractor. Then, the service the City provides is signing paychecks.

So where, exactly is that money coming from? ABC-7 is on the job.

ABC-7 asked Rep. Cassandra Hernandez where the funding is coming from for the renovations and rent of the office space.

“It’s not tax payer dollars being used, it’s a special revenue source that’s dedicated to empowering El Pasoans. That’s what the space for El Paso civic engagement activity is for,” said Hernandez, representative for District 3. “It’s an empowerment zone revenue source. It is a form of dollars that we get from the federal government. They’re not property tax dollars.”

Well, yeah, I hate to point out that money from the Federal Government is also tax dollars, but frankly I feel a lot better spending money from Ohio or Pennsylvania or Maryland than money that comes from local taxes.

But that’s not, I believe, what’s happening.

The Housing and Urban Development website says Empowerment Zones ended nearly a decade ago.

The Empowerment Zone Initiative created an opportunity for economic rejuvenation and job creation for communities across America. Enacted in 1993, its purpose was to create jobs in the most economically distressed areas of urban and rural areas through tax incentives and grants.

Congress authorized three competitions in 1994, 1998, and 2001. The Empowerment Zone designations originally ended on December 31, 2009; however, The Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 allowed for the extension of the Empowerment Zone designations (including the DC EZ) to December 31, 2011.

Following the end of the first EZ designation extension on December 31, 2011, the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) of 2012, signed into law by President Obama on January 2, 2013, provided for an extension of the Empowerment Zone designations until December 31, 2013. The ATRA of 2012 did not extend the designation of the DC Enterprise Zone.

I’m no expert on Federal Grant Programs, so please, show me I’m wrong.

I bet the money for the 17th Floor of the Blue Flame Building is coming from the City’s Impact Fund. That money is not siphoned off from the General Fund, which gets its money from our property taxes. The City’s Impact Fund is financed by that money that the City of El Paso skimmed from the Electric Company’s Franchise Fee.

Remember that City Council took that money when the Electric Company tried to reimburse the ratepayers for President Trump’s Corporate Tax reduction.

Remember? From the May 26, 2018, El Paso Inc.:

The price that El Paso Electric must pay the city for use of its streets is going up by more than $5 million – to a grand total of $27 million.

El Paso City Council approved the increase Tuesday on a 6-2 vote. The $5.6-million – which amounts to a 1-percent hike in the utility’s franchise fee – will be passed on to utility customers who live within El Paso city limits starting in May.

Despite that hike, the average residential bill will drop by $3.83, thanks to the utility’s rate reduction following changes in the corporate tax rate.

This is the same money the City is using to give Great Wolf Resorts $40 million to build a Great Wolf Lodge here. Technically, it’s not tax dollars. Technically, it’s Franchise Fee money. But it still comes out of your pocket.

Steer manure by any other name still smells like bullshit.

2 comments

  1. Thank you for addressing this in some depth. The other thing I don’t understand is “add office meeting space and get more civic engagement.” How is the average El Pasoan is going to feel comfortable going to the 17th floor of a downtown building and of course the challenge of parking without breaking the bank? Oh, of course, it’s not for the average El Pasoan, it’s for meeting the people with big money out of public notice and public view where deals can be made.

  2. So demolishing city hall and buying other properties to house departments isn’t enough? I get the feeling this is going to be a meeting room that will most likely be used by the Borderplex Alliance so they and the mayor, city manager, and city council can meet away from prying eyes.

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