The El Paso Tribune - El Paso Texas Political Commentary
Reasons to Vote for Robert Cushing
May 5, 2005 - Robert A. Cushing
Greetings.  We are rapidly approaching election day, and to this point there has been little, if any, media coverage of the positions of the respective candidates for District 2.  Thus, I feel compelled to bring forward critical differences with my opponents that are stark and quite troubling.

We have an interesting dynamic in this election in that all candidates have a definable record with the governance of the City of El Paso.  Ms. Byrd was a political appointee as the executive assistant to Mayor Raymond Caballero.  Mr. Gonzalez served a short stint as an employee of the City of El Paso in the capacity of Neighborhood Liaison, until he opted to resign when he was required to account for his hours worked, as any other employee would be expected to do.  I have served for the past two years as your elected City Representative.

When I ran for office in 2003, there was a prime topic on the table, the relocation of the rail lines and the grand vision/s of the previous administration.  I then assumed, and still maintain, the position that such a relocation is not feasible from a railroad operational standpoint and, also, that the costs associated with such a move would be astronomical.

Recently, the Governor of Texas entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Union Pacific Railroad, setting forth some mechanisms for the relocation of rail lines within metropolitan areas of the State; however, they are all contingent on several parameters, not limited to a willingness on the part of the railroad company to move the lines, and the condition that no cost will be incurred by the railroad company.

This sounds good, but in reality the railroads are still controlling their own destiny, and if they do decide to move, it will be financed by you, the citizens of El Paso.

In many ways it is my founded opinion that the MOU was more a function of expanding the powers of the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) than of setting in place a meaningful structure for the relocation of rail lines, except in certain, already predefined areas of the State.

In the fall of 2004, as a member of the MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization), the local interface between the various taxing entities and TXDOT, we were successful in defeating a plan to “toll” Interstate 10 (I-10) and other TXDOT roads currently under construction.  In its stead, we opted to “toll” a road that does not exist and, for all practical purposes, will not be built for the next twenty years.

However, the issue of “toll roads” is a hot topic, and the record clearly demonstrates that the entire El Paso delegation to the Texas House of Representatives voted against a recent bill concerning the “tolling” of roads.

It is an interesting concept, in that we currently pay a state gasoline tax to fund the construction and maintenance of roads under the control of TXDOT.  However, it is effectively being argued that the monies received from the state gasoline tax are not adequate to fund anticipated highway expansions and upkeep.

Thus, the proverbial “carrot and stick” mentality has moved to the forefront.  That is, you will get the bare minimum in construction and upkeep, but if you want more, there is money available, in the form of State Bonds, that you can borrow, and then pay off the debt by either “toll revenues” or “property tax increases.”

Right now, we in El Paso are far behind the curve on TXDOT roads:  Loop 375 remains under construction; there are numerous interchanges and widenings that are needed on I-10; the expansion of the Patriot freeway; and the Inner Loop, etc.

We are funded for the Inner Loop without any tolls being levied; however, in the wish list of needed projects there will ultimately be some projects that may fall into the category of being “toll roads.”

Enter, the Regional Mobility Authority (or RMA) that would be established for these projects.  The Director and Board of the RMA would be appointed by the Governor and totally unaccountable to the voters.  This additional bureaucratic entity would be established for the purpose of handling all TXDOT projects within El Paso County, and they would be responsible for the “toll” projects that are chosen for this area, in addition to having unlimited power to ensure that the debts incurred are fully paid.

The rail relocations fall into this category.  My opponents are strident in their desire to remove the “Tucumcari Line,” the rail line that runs through parts of our District and parallels Railroad Drive, and they are also adamant that there are “monies” available now that can be borrowed to make sure that this will occur.

One of my opponents advocates this action since it was proposed in the “1925 Plan for El Paso,” my other opponent in the fact that she is often inconvenienced by “having to wait for a train to pass” in the vicinity of the old Pershing Theater.  Both thought processes have some degree of merit, until one looks at the price tag to ensure the vision of the “1925 Plan for El Paso” and the removal of the inconvenience of being stopped at a rail crossing—simply stated, one billion dollars ($1,000,000,000).  That is one billion dollars that will have to be paid for either in tolls or in increased property taxes.

Additionally, under the State plan, if a rail line is relocated, there are only two (2) uses for the abandoned rail right of way, a toll road or a commuter rail line.  From a strictly logical point of view, if the rail right of way were made into a toll road, most of those living proximate to the existing rail line would be forced to move, since the toll road would be much wider than the rail line.

On the other side of the coin is the issue of a commuter rail line, and speaking from a position of authority in this area, I can affirm that any type of commuter rail line, after construction, requires a huge public subsidy.  Interestingly, my opponents feel that it is important to relocate the rail lines; however, they are quite content with placing a commuter rail in place of the existing infrastructure.  Simply stated, they want to remove one rail line to replace it with another, and stick the residents with a one billion dollar debt.

I believe that I more than possess the requisite expertise to address these issues fully, since I am admitted in both Federal and State Courts as an expert in rail and transportation issues.

BOTTOM LINE, I am the only candidate who opposes the “toll road” concept, a concept which also allows property taxes to rise, if inadequate tolls are generated.

This issue of the rail relocation serves to encapsulate one of the major differences between the candidates in this race.  When I first took office, the City had just experienced the largest tax increase in the history of El Paso, and we as its citizens had been additionally burdened with some sixty-six million dollars ($66,000,000) in non-voter-approved debt, issued within a two (2) year period.

One of my opponents “proudly” served as part of that previous administration; the other really has no opinion on non-voter-approved debt issuance.

I personally would never approve any type of non-voter-approved debt issuance, more commonly referred to as “certificates of obligation,” absent some dire emergency situation.  I would never allow property taxes to rise to fund “pet projects” that would never pass the scrutiny of the voters.

BOTTOM LINE, I am the only candidate who opposes the issuance of “non-voter-approved debt,”  i.e., certificates of obligation, the main reason for the high property taxes we now face.

Another clear difference between my opponents and me concerns the issue of individual property rights and what rights, if any, a governmental entity has to remove one’s individual property rights.  The legal term is “eminent domain,” a concept that was invented and brutally utilized by the railroad industry during the industrialization of our country.

In a previous mailing I brought to you the issues related to “infill” and the benefits of this historic Ordinance that your District 2 office was able to have passed.  However, that Ordinance protects the rights of individual property owners, a limited few of whom, I would be the first to admit, probably should have them removed.

My opponents truly advocate for the right of the municipal government to determine the proper utilization of your property, something that I find irresponsible.

BOTTOM LINE, I am the only candidate who opposes the return of the development of TIF districts that were one of the highlights of the previous, Caballero administration.

As we are all well aware, within District 2 is the “quarry” located proximate to the entrance to McKelligon Canyon.  This facility has been in place since I arrived in El Paso in 1966, and until recently was operated by an El Paso resident.  It has since been purchased and is now under the control and operation of a Mexican-owned company.

My opponents are both adamant about closing this “quarry” operation, and their desires in this area are veiled in statements concerning “saving the Franklin Mountains.”  I personally believe that the Franklin Mountains must be preserved, and most of this was accomplished in the dedication of the Franklin Mountains State Park, giving us the largest park within a municipal area in the United States.

I strongly oppose any additional growth of buildings or homes higher on the Franklins, and the recent land sales by the Public Service Board show the strong commitment of all sectors of the community to preserve the natural beauty of our mountains.

However, both of my opponents would like to “close” the quarry, a feat that is not quite so simple.  This was one of the main goals of the previous administration, and it was the subject matter of a private class action lawsuit.  The lawsuit remains in name only at this time, with all the plaintiffs being dismissed, and a single person left, without a lawyer.

However, both of my opponents would not be averse to spending up to one-half billion dollars ($500,000,000) of your money to purchase the quarry.  This amount is nearly the amount of the yearly budget for the City of El Paso.

For the record, I do not like the quarry.  I do not believe that it in any way benefits the natural beauty of our City.  However, I would never support the issuance of any commitment of your tax dollars—which, coincidentally, would result in your property taxes more than tripling—for this type of expenditure.

BOTTOM LINE, I am the only candidate who realizes the detrimental effects of the quarry but does not want to authorize higher property taxes to take the proper remedial action against the owner/operator of the “quarry.”

In reviewing the “campaign literature” of my opponents, and having had the opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with them in a multitude of forums, I find that one issue that begs to be addressed is the matter of “economic development.”  A careful review will demonstrate that neither of my opponents has ever mentioned, in writing or vocally, the strategic nature of Fort Bliss for our economic development.

We are the beneficiaries to one of the greatest economic drivers, something that every city in the United States would love to have—a military installation that is already “par excellence” and positioned to become the largest installation in the U.S.  Our economic development is joined at the hip with Fort Bliss.

My opponents both believe that economic development is a “citizen driven” initiative, and I can only respond that such a thought process is at best “inane.”

In the past two years we have put in place our Regional Economic Development Corporation (REDCO), patterned after the economic development models of the most successful cities in the United States, and we are aggressively pursuing job growth and development in three key areas:   military and defense-related industries, bio-medical industries, and automotive industries.

BOTTOM LINE, I am the only candidate who understands the importance of Fort Bliss in our economic development growth and, further, has a background in positive economic development growth.

I respect my opponents for their desire to hold public office, and again, there are clear distinctions between our respective desires to represent you.  Specifically, both of my opponents are desirous of holding office for the purpose of having a “job” midway through their lives.  On the other hand, I have come forward and only have a desire to devote myself to public service, and my desire is clearly reflected in the fact that I do not, nor will I ever, accept any type of compensation for holding public office.  I would rather return your tax dollars to our District.

BOTTOM LINE, I am the only candidate who desires to serve as a full-time City Representative to perform a public service for our community.

A final area of difference is the jargon raised by both of my opponents concerning the term “special interests.”  This is an interesting phrase, since anyone who approaches a City Representative has a “special interest” in mind, and to my mind I have some seventy-eight thousand (78,000) “special interests” that I represent, the residents of District 2.  I neither represent nor advocate for any type of interests, special or otherwise, that would prove detrimental to our District.

As a case in point, the residents on Chelsea Street, a beautiful residential neighborhood, came to my office with a problem.  There was an attempt being made to re-zone a piece of residential property to commercial, to put a “credit union” in the middle of a residential area.  I listened to these some seventy residents, and we were successful in defeating the proposed re-zoning.

BOTTOM LINE, I am the only candidate who believes that each citizen of District 2 is a unique and defined “special interest,” and the only one who has a proven track record of fighting for the rights of our District.

In closing, my opponents both subscribe to the theory of visions of grandeur for our City, and personally, if we could afford it, I would probably have some grand visions of my own.  However, I am a realist and clearly understand that we need better-paying jobs, something that the military buildup at Fort Bliss will go a long way toward accomplishing; we need better streets, something that during my term of office has been addressed for the first time in many years; we need improvements in our parks, something I have stridently worked to accomplish, and the results of my efforts are self-evident; we need to see the private sector initiate development on our vacant lots and in distressed buildings, something that is now moving forward, thanks to the Infill Ordinance; we need relief on our property taxes, something that was done when the City Council in 2004 unanimously reduced the effective tax rate; we need to pay greater attention to the financial needs of our senior and disabled communities, and I was able to author, introduce, and get passed the doubling of the homestead exemption for these wonderful individuals; and most importantly, we need accountability from our elected officials, and I am proud to be part of an administration that allowed you, the voters, to determine the specific amounts of money and specific projects for your tax dollars.

I accepted my oath of office in 2003 and have faithfully executed  that oath of office. I believe in District 2 and have dedicated myself to our District. It is my desire to continue to work to make District 2 number one.

Thank you for the wonderful opportunity that you have entrusted me with in the past two years, and I would respectfully solicit your vote and support on May 7.

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