The Impending, Ongoing, QoL Bond Fiasco

Bad news for the Quality of Life Bond advocates. You got sold a pig in a poke.

Remember when they trotted out all the projects? There were swim centers for swim moms, and soccer fields for soccer moms. If you liked animals, there was a zoo expansion.

Whatever you wanted, in fact, was included in exchange for your vote.

You dirty whores.

To fit all those amenities under the umbrella, the bond proponents scrimped. So, for instance, a $14 million swim center got budgeted $10 million. Accuracy, and the truth, was sacrificed for expediency to close the deal.

And all those projects entail operations and maintenance expenses, and there’s no budget for that. Since the regime change, the new management has discovered that the previous administration was a little fast and loose with the pocketbook. We can’t actually afford all the stuff we want.

Economic forecasts weren’t consulted to predict the future. Economic forecasts were crafted to justify the bonds.

The numbers, it turns out, we’re based on faulty precepts and wishful thinking. Inflation, for instance, was pegged at four percent into the future whereas for the last ten years inflation has averaged two and half percent. (Higher inflation makes paying back borrowed money cheaper in real terms.)

Unprecedented growth, as a result of a tenuous security situation in Juarez and Fort Bliss’s expansion, was assumed to be a permanent condition.

Our city fathers felt the wind and thought it was their own breath.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Ron McGinnis was the rational voice in the wilderness, with data and spreadsheets, the whole time, but the bond advocates, and their media cohorts, chose to focus on the hysterical fringe. Any critical reporter could have unearthed these fibs with a minimum of skepticism, and a minimum of skepticism is a job requirement for a reporter.

You, El Paso, were betrayed by the people you trusted. Your elected officials ceded responsibility to the City Manager. She, I suspect, orchestrated the unrealistic financial predictions used to justify the rampant financial extravagance. In the end, the City’s Chief Financial Officer got hung out to dry. When confronted with the discrepancies between facts and fictions, she ran off and hid. [Edit: At least that’s my interpretation of the facts as presented in the press.] The media, which in a functional democracy is supposed to check government excesses, instead, sold out. In fact, instead of being an impartial reporter of events, The El Paso Times opted to cheer lead the financial irresponsibility, and label anyone who questioned the impending unsupportable debt levels crazy, like the town folks who derided the boy who noticed the Emperor was naked.

Even now the media, bought off by ad dollars in the face of dwindling revenues, won’t try to pull back the curtain to reveal the true state of the City’s finances. Why do we need to raise taxes after years of economic growth?

Unfortunately, El Paso can’t run up annual deficits like the federal government. Our debts have to be financed via other methods. And raising taxes will eventually reach a point of negative returns. We’re already losing potential retirees to communities with lower residential property taxes. Wait till the tax forfeitures mount, and property values fall, and our local governments enter the death spiral, a plunge from which we cannot pull out.

El Paso is dependent on the federal tit. The United States will always need an army base on our southern border. The United States will always need employees to man the bridges, and stem the onslaught of pillaging immigrants intent on securing a better life. That’s pretty much it for local industry. Unless there’s a seismic shift in the local economy, that’s all we’ll get. Unfortunately, seismic shifts are unusual in local economies. Developments usually proceed at a glacial pace, one day pretty much the same as the day before, until, eventually, a lot of incremental changes add up to a big, barely perceptible, change, for better or for worse.

Will the City have to sell its extensive landholdings to finance our sense of entitlement? Are we going to hock our patrimony? Are we going to be the generation that trades our kids’ inheritances for some shiny gewgaws that we didn’t need and couldn’t afford?

The sky’s not falling, Carlos says. But if you look real close, you can see where the paint is flaking off, and some cracks are starting to show.


  1. My parents with beliefs similar to your left me an El Paso I couldn’t wait to escape from….why…because their generation and my grandparents generation didn’t do anything. In fact they let downtown crumble to a ghost town. They let Juarez blockade the bridge that closed the trolley system down. Talk about letting the paint flake off. We used to love having dinner in Juarez, buying cheap diesel and a case of cokes for the cheap liquor. Those days are gone. So what is your solution El Richiboy…50 more years of central core decay. I got to bring my family downtown this summer for some 6 dollar tickets to the baseball game and actually saw a new El Paso. I saw a crowd beaming with local pride. I hear the trolleys are coming back. I hear the Juarez strip may be coming back to life. For 50 years my parents and their friends ignored politics and let El Paso die. I see new life now and don’t understand why you are so pessimistic. Most economic models…like say buying your home…pay mostly interest the first years…but over time begin to pay off. What is your solution? Instead of throwing stones, use the head I know you have for solutions.

    1. The single biggest contributing factor to the decline of downtown was moving the buses from San Jacinto Plaza. Before we moved the buses to the extreme southern edge of downtown, the urban core was vibrant. Foot traffic made all those vacant store fronts viable. If you don’t like the way downtown crumbled to a ghost town, blame the city planners. Unfortunately, our city fathers, or their masters, don’t like poor Mexicans. They ran them out of downtown, and then complained that no one took their place.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the ballpark. Where else did you go? Did you have dinner at the Tap, or Anson 11? If it was a day game, you could have gone to the Art Museum. How was it?

      Yeah, the ballpark is nice. Looking at it, I’m surprised that El Paso could afford it. Of course, the jury is still out on that. It makes me wonder how we’ll be able to afford the maintenance and operation costs of all the Quality of Life bond projects. If the swim centers are going to cost us half a million dollars a year each, net, to operate, how will we be able to afford those museums and cultural centers and all the other QoL amenities? I’m not even sure that if we were to build them, they’d work to attract people to downtown. They promised that the Plaza Theatre would revitalize downtown. Well, that didn’t happen, so then they said the ballpark would do it. As long as we also include almost half a billion dollars of additional projects.

      El Paso is not a rich city. The City freaked out this year because we our revenues were less than one half of one percent short of our operating budget. They started scrambling for revenue.

      When you’re in a hole, quit digging. We’re in a hole.

      Thank you for you confidence in my ability to work this out. If you’ll scroll through the entries in El Chuqueno, you’ll see that I have proposed some solutions that don’t involve massive, hemorrhaging, self-indulgent, bankrupting, debt.

      1. Excellent post.

        The new City Manager has said the same thing in different words. He says he has never known a city that wants more and can afford it less. That’s a recipe for disaster.

  2. The city’s CFO spun the numbers to fit the policy/politics. She did not understand what the role of a CFO is about. The CM wanted to go out in a blaze of glory and leave the unaffordable mess in the new guy’s hands. You will notice that the DTEP projects have more to do with enhancing the values of real estate investors, not serving citizens.

  3. “Thank you for you confidence in my ability to work this out. If you’ll scroll through the entries in El Chuqueno, you’ll see that I have proposed some solutions that don’t involve massive, hemorrhaging, self-indulgent, bankrupting, debt.”

    Challenge accepted…Your solutions for change as written by you…

    1.) Campaign finance reform…..You are disturbed by a campaign that refuses to take high dollar donations from PACS and only accept 200 dollars or less…

    2.) Your solution for low voter turnout is to buy voters drugs or give them QOL bond money.

    3.) Your solution to imminent bankruptcy is to cut the cities “paper clip” budget.

    4.) You bash the trolley because in your mind going from funneling UTEP students to down town is a trolley that “goes nowhere”

    5.) Eliminate all parking tickets.

    6.) On “brain drain” your solution is to offer more craft beer and coffee shops. Ill give you that one.

    7.) National Parking day wasn’t hipster enough for you because it was in front of a “snooty craft beer joint” rather than in front of the Tap…which is a dump.

    8.) The best burrito in the nation cant possibly be from El Paso despite the yelp metrics…you have to go spend your money on burritos in Juarez…

    9.) You Bash the trolley which could ultimately reconnect with Juarez but you Praise the Juarez Monorail concept….Bravoooo!!

    10.) You want to increase connection fees for homebuilders…Ill give you that one too…but it will drive the homes cost up in a ” low income town.” as you like to say…

    11.) Trolley Routes redundancy is offset by eliminating circulars…that’s not good enough for you either…Never mind that the trolley will be in a fixed route and foster investment along that fixed route…Thus increasing the tax base..but you don’t get that concept either…

    12.) You bash Mountain Star for bringing the Chihuahuas because the Isotopes are leaving ABQ… Well they weren’t leaving ABQ when the opportunity for AAA came to us. Your point???

    13.) You’d rather spend 62 million dollars on free beer at ascarate park than on a stadium….That’s my favorite solution of yours so far.

    14.) Decriminalize the poor for sleeping in the public and invite them into downtown that will creat a new and vibrant “underground” type of economy.

    15.) You should go to the ball park because you are already paying for it with reduced city services…Which reduced city services would those be Richieboy? Id love to see more city services go but cant find one that I heard was cut. Please shed some light because Id love to see half of them gone!

    16.) Add non consumerist features to downtown plan like a community garden, then build a beer garden and BBQ for the non consumerists… Bravo…the beer garden and the BBQ add to the tax base…How does a community garden on the border add? It would be stripped bare every night.

    17.) Don’t hold neighborhood association meetings to notify the neighbors that they have a new neighbor called a homeless shelter..You prefer to do the old fashied way…behind closed doors …Excellent solution Richieboy.

    18.) Take away the city fathers shovels because the hole is too big… Another brilliant solution to the problems faced in El Paso.

    This is your playbook? Cynical BS is all you shovel out…No wonder everyone moved to Austin..

    1. As I was telling my good friend Gerald the other day, sometimes cynicism is the only sane response. I didn’t know it would drive everyone to Austin.

      I think you’ve mis-characterized several of my posts. Some, of course, are tongue-in-cheek. Others are legitimate gripes. In your attempt to spin my posts, you’ve overlooked their legitimacy. Like the trolley. Do you really think that the trolley will significantly enhance our tax revenues? Where, exactly, are those new businesses going to go? There aren’t a lot of vacant lots on the proposed routes. Are the current occupants going to set up lemonade stands? And the trolley is going to cost a couple of million a year to operate. Where is that money coming from?

      All those projects were based on forecasts that were fundamentally flawed, but people were so enamored of the pretty pictures that the promoters presented that they can’t let go of them. It was bullshit, Inheritance. They lied to you.

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