DALLAS A new website with details on Texas public debt is intended to give voters information to make informed decisions at the ballot box, state comptroller Susan Combs said at the launch of her Tell The Truth Texas campaign.
Presenting the information online is the best way to communicate to voters today, she said.
The site is a one-stop source for data on local government debt totals and trends, Combs said.
“The Internet is the new town square, and we want to give busy Texans easy and quick access to information to help them get involved in government,” Combs said.
The site provides individual pages with information on the debt, issued and unissued, of the Texas state government, the 20 most populous counties and towns, and the 20 school districts with the most students. It includes tax rates, outstanding bonds and certificates of obligation, and per-capita debt over the last 10 years.
The data are updated through the end of fiscal 2012 for the local governments and fiscal 2011 for the state.
The comptroller’s site also includes links to the governments’ annual financial reports, and shows how each one’s total debt compares to the others on the list.
The site is intended for voters and does not include the detailed information needed by investors, she said.
Combs began the program in 2012 with reports on debt issued by the state, city and county governments, school districts and pension fund obligations.
She opted to begin the Tell The Truth Texas campaign and web site, Combs said, after the 2013 Legislature considered but did not pass a bill that would have required debt information to be included on ballots in local bond referendums.
“Taxpayers pay the freight when government asks them to take on debt,” Combs said. “These web pages are part of our continuing efforts to help provide simple ways for taxpayers to find out what they’re already on the hook for.”
Information on the site comes from the Texas Bond Review Board, which Combs said includes details that are useful but often hard to find.
Debt profiles for community colleges and special taxing districts in the state will follow soon, officials said.
Texas state debt totals $41 billion, including $14.2 billion of general obligation bonds and $26.7 billion on other debt.
The state debt limit is set by a constitutional amendment adopted in 1997 that limits debt service to 5% of annual general fund revenues. Texas is currently paying debt service totaling 1.34% of general fund revenues.
Local governments have more than $190 billion of outstanding debt, including $63.6 billion of outstanding bonds issued by school districts.