Local debt needs some sunshine

May 7, 2014 by AFP

Texas ranks highly when it comes to letting taxpayers know how state government spends its money, according to a new report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

The report, called “Following the Money 2014,” named Texas the fourth most transparent state in providing online access to government expenditure information, behind Indiana, Oregon and Florida. Texas’ rank fell slightly from last year, when it topped the list, but the state remains a “leader” in financial transparency, according to the report’s authors.  Here is the full report: http://www.uspirg.org/reports/usp/following-money-2014

While the state is a leader on spending transparency, local government in the Lone Star State is less transparent.  That was apparent this last week when one newspaper posted the salaries of school superintendents in the area on their front page with the headline “They Earn HOW Much?”.

While citizens are often surprised to learn how much their local superintendent makes, it is available on the Teas Education Agency Website (http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/adhocrpt/adpea.html) and while it doesn’t include the perks of financial benefits, citizens can search to find the base salary of their owns superintendent.  Some school districts post their superintendent’s contract online.

But no local government boasts its debt along with unfunded pension liabilities.  And as more debt is on the ballot May 10, even the biggest newspaper in the state didn’t realize what was on the ballot.  The Houston Chronicle wrote:

“Susan Combs, the happy anti-public debt warrior who serves as the current state comptroller, stopped by the Chronicle editorial board’s offices the other day to ask if we had noticed that voters in our region are being asked to add about $1.7 billion to their public debt in the bond elections to be held on May 10th. In fact, we had not, and suspect that you may not have, either.”

Early voting ended yesterday and the election is May 10 when Texas voters are being asked to consider $6.7 Billion in additional debt, the majority of which is school district bond initiatives.  We have posted a listing of all the local bonds on the ballot: https://americansforprosperity.org/texas/files/2014/05/Bonds-May-2014-Sheet1.pdf

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs has revealed that Texans in a report out last year Your Money and Pension Obligations.   According to data reported to the PRB, the total unfunded liability for all Texas pension plans was $43.8 billion as of November 2012. Add that to the $321 billion in local government debt (principal plus interest) and we get a graphic picture of the future we are levying our children and grandchildren.

We are making it more difficult for future Texans to enjoy the American Dream.  While we work to get the federal debt under control, we have opportunity to more directly impact local government debt and decisions made by city councils, school boards and county commissioners courts.

If you agree, please comment and Tweet this post with the hashtag #DebtMatters and #LocalMatters