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Texas Tribune Article Misses Most Important Transparency bill

May 31, 2013

The Texas Tribune ran an article on the failure of transparency legislation.  http://www.texastribune.org/2013/05/27/lawmaker-transparency-bills-got-little-traction/
 
It is important to point out that SB 14 and HB 14 were  important bills that failed to get through the process, due to points of order.  Both bills were pushed by Comptroller Susan Combs and sponsored by powerful committee chairmen.  But  local government officials were the primary obstacle in their passage.  One said that if taxpayers knew how much money they owed, they may not approve more local debt.  Local government debt is the reason Texas is ranked # 14 on the Mercatus Center freedom ranking (http://freedominthe50states.org/overall/texas ) – largely because of our massive local government debt.
 
SB 14 and HB 14 would have provided a mechanism for taxpayers to see how much local debt they have when they are asked to consider increasing their debt, or passing an bond initiative.  It is good government. It is transparent government.  But many local officials and organizations worked to keep that bill from becoming law.
 
Local officials are not all in opposition to this legislation, but many were.
 
Texas is $342 billion (principal plus interest – according to the Texas Bond Review Board) in local government debt – second only to California in total debt and second only to New York in per capita debt.  We are leaving our children and grandchildren a legacy of debt  — not the legacy most of us want to leave them. 
 
As we have traveled the state the past few years providing information on local government transparency, the one individual who has been most helpful to bring this issue to the public attention – and to the legislature – has been Texas Comptroller Susan Combs.  She has worked tirelessly to eliminate the cloak of secrecy surrounding local debt and provide the  public with information.
 
We also salute, among HB 14 bill sponsor  House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts and Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams, the hard work of Sen. Ken Paxton.  Both as a state representative and as a senator, Paxton has been willing to tackle tough issues – including local debt. 
 
All politics is local and we can’t control Washington, D.C., if we can’t control City Hall.  Let’s remember that the local government officials are the “farm team” and will likely be in the state legislature and Congress in the future.  Giving them opportunity to increase debt and buy now what our children and grandchildren will be paying for in the future is not responsible fiscal policy. 
 
We at AFP-TX will continue to fight for local transparency and for taxpayer  protections. 
-          Peggy Venable 

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