by Max Grossman
Houston, like most major cities, has journalists with the requisite skills for investigating complex financial matters and the time and patience to conduct open records requests for key documents.
As a consequence, their local politicians cannot engage in fiscal mismanagement without being savaged by legions of very determined reporters.
But then there is El Paso, where there are only two reporters capable of covering government finance.
This means that our political leaders routinely get away with financial malfeasance without any blowback from the media, leaving the public clueless.
Only in El Paso could City Attorney Karla Nieman publicly misrepresent the City’s contract with Great Wolf Lodge without any media coverage whatsoever.
Only in El Paso could our City Council authorize more than a half-billion dollars in non-voter-approved debt without a single comprehensive financial analysis by a reporter.
Only in El Paso could our City representatives sign hundreds of millions of dollars worth of tax incentive agreements with developers without any media scrutiny.
Instead, we turn on the television and see a parade of reports about murders, car accidents, and the weather. Most discussions of financial matters uncritically repeat government press releases and talking points.
KVIA has aired more investigative reports than all the other local television networks combined, which is why they enjoy the highest ratings. The quality of their reporting depends upon the quality of their journalists, and they have had several (although they just lost Erik Elken!).
HOUSTON CITY COUNCIL TO VOTE ON REGULATING TIRZS
In October 2022 the Houston Chronicle published a thorough report on the abuse of tax increment reinvestment zones (TIRZs) by local developers.
Just yesterday, the Houston Chronicle reported that their City Council is set to vote on “the city’s first-ever policy governing how to create, grow or disband economic development zones, which sparked controversy for decades and now claim nearly $200 million in city revenue each year.”
In Houston, media focus on the abuse of TIRZs, which direct a significant portion of property tax revenue away from the general fund and into private development zones, has culminated in political action.
Meanwhile, in El Paso less than 1% of taxpayers can even define what TIRZs are, much less explain how they deprive local governments of much-needed revenue.
TIRZ 13 in Northeast El Paso is the biggest corporate handout in the history of West Texas but I have yet to see a media report that explains why.
As long as our media continue to hire journalists who lack the training to examine a financial spreedsheet, the taxpayers will continue to vote for bloated bonds and other boondoggles that benefit elite investors who depend upon our ignorance to advance their private agendas.