Last Tuesday City Council received a report about the city’s finances. Almost across the board, the report stated that the city was doing better in almost all revenue sources. After the report was presented, the city council representatives congratulated themselves for their leadership. Patting themselves on the back, they proclaimed that the city is on the right path.
That is how public perception is manufactured. Let’s take a closer look at this.
As part of the presentation, the council heard that revenues from permitting, bridge fees, sales taxes and especially the HOT taxes, among others, were greater than expected. The numbers that city staff used to generate the glowing report is probably accurate. I do not believe that they lied about the numbers.
However, what I believe is that the politicians like to project “it’s all good” by issuing glowing reports without context. Let me explain.
The numbers used in the latest report include factual information about the fees and taxes but they neglect to put in the context that the numbers have been affected by unique outside forces unlikely to repeat again. In this case, the obvious outside influence on the HOT taxes is the bowling tournament held during the first six-months of the year.
This is a one-time event that brought in visitors to the city that are unlikely to come back next year in the same numbers. It was a one-time event. They stayed in hotels and ate food in the city, thus the HOT taxes went up and they generated higher sales taxes during their stay.
While the city politicians are patting themselves on the back, two news reports were reporting the sobering fact that not all is good with the city’s economic engine.
First is the El Paso Inc. report in the dwindling airport traffic. On July 28, 2015, David Crowder quoted Rick LaFleur, the general manager of the Airport Wyndham Hotel, as stating that “it scares the hell out of” him when he looks at the 20% drop in traffic at the airport.
Of course, all of you are now aware of the Bloomberg report showing that El Pasoans are ditching El Paso in droves.
My problem is not with city staff reporting factual information about the state of affairs in the city. That is their job.
My problem is with the city officials who were pontificating about how well the city is doing because of their public policy management. It is one thing to have a temporary bump because of a one-time injection of economic activity because of the bowling tournament, however, it is an entirely different thing to show long-term stability because of a public policy that has created the necessary infrastructure to show continued economic growth.
All indicators, airport traffic down and taxpayers leaving the city, demonstrates a long-term problem.
Honest politicians would have celebrated the one-time economic jump by reminding everyone of the context of the numbers they based their celebrations on.