DALLAS — Outstanding state and local public debt in Texas doubled over the past 10 years while the population grew by 20.6%, Comptroller Susan Combs said in a report issued Wednesday.
Total indebtedness at the end of fiscal 2011 included $40.5 billion of outstanding state debt, up from $17.4 billion. The $192.7 billion of outstanding local debt, up from $86.8 billion a decade ago, includes $63.6 billion of outstanding bonds issued by the state's 1,024 public school districts.
The state has $15 billion of authorized but unissued debt.
Outstanding state debt includes $21.8 billion support by dedicated revenues outside the general fund, $10.2 billion supported by dedicated funds but also backed by the state's full faith and credit, $4.2 billion supported by general revenue, and $4.3 billion of conduit debt.
Texas cities have $62.9 billion of outstanding debt, second only to school districts.
Water districts have $30.3 billion, and special purpose and hospital districts account for $18.2 billion.
North Texas Tollway Authority has the most special purpose district debt with $8.6 billion outstanding as of Aug. 31, 2011.
Combs said the report, Your Money and Local Debt, will give taxpayers a clearer understanding of how much governments in Texas owe to bondholders.
Taxpayers need to know much debt their local governments have accumulated and how those debts will be repaid, she said.
"Key debt information could be included on ballot forms that would let voters decide whether new debt is merited based on how much debt they, as taxpayers, are already paying," she said.
Too often, Combs said, clear information is not provided to voters deciding on bond referendums.
"As taxpayers step into a voting booth to approve new debt, government should tell them how much debt they are already responsible for repaying and how much debt service is included," Combs said. "Few government entities make it easy for the taxpayers to figure out what they owe, what debt costs, and what it pays for."
Ballot information should include the current outstanding debt, how much debt service is costing, and how much the debt service will go up if bonds are approved, she said.
"Elected officials are responsible for telling the taxpayers they serve about the price tag associated with new and existing debt," Combs said.
The report said limits should be put on the use of certificates of obligation, which do not require voter approval. Local governments issued $12.7 billion of certificates of obligation between 2005 and 2011, Combs said, almost 17% of the total debt issued by eligible entities.
The report on outstanding debt is the second of a four-part series, Texas, It's Your Money.
A report on property taxes was issued in August. Future reports will include examinations of educational debt and public pensions in Texas.
"It is my goal to continue making Texas government more transparent by providing the information and tools necessary for our citizens to understand the details of our state and local government finances, which they pay for," Combs said.