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Texas Legislation Targets Property Tax Debt

by Ken Parsons, Senior Vice President, Dallas, March 2013

 

The Texas Legislature is considering new laws to improve government transparency and help residents make informed decisions before they take on more debt supported by their property taxes.

 

A Hidden Concern

 

Debt can be somewhat hidden. When voting on a bond initiative, voters are typically only presented with information about the current proposal, so they may be unaware of existing debt. In fact, annual budgets may be the only time elected officials tell taxpayers about how much debt service they fund.

 

How Texas Ranks

 

In Texas, the local debt burden per person is second highest among the 10 most populous states.

 

State Ranking

Local Property-Tax Supported Debt Per Capita

1. New York

$8,744

2. Texas

$7,983

3. California

$6,469

4. Pennsylvania

$6,010

5. Florida

$5,842

6. Illinois

$5,510

7. Michigan

$4,853

8. Georgia

$4,021

9. Ohio

$3,985

10. North Carolina

$3,226

Note: the debt rankings are based on the outstanding debt principal per capita for 2009.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

 

Legislation

 

Senate Bill 14 and House Bill 14 require cities, counties, schools, and college districts to issue detailed reports about their debt obligations. The legislation requires county assessors and special tax districts to maintain a website providing taxpayers with up-to-date information on tax and debt rates. It also puts limitations on certificates of obligation, which governments use to issue debt without voter approval.

 

"People need to know what their government is doing, and how it spends their money," Texas Comptroller Susan Combs said. "We need to implement common-sense changes that put vital information about government spending and debt in front of the public."