Early voting begins today on $6.6 billion worth of bonded indebtedness proposals statewide, and State Comptroller Susan Combs tells 1200 WOAI News she's worried about the amount of debt local governments in Texas have begun piling on the backs of taxpayers, 1200 WOAI news reports.
"We're number two in the country, behind only New York, for local debt," Combs says.
She says while groups like the Tea Party have done much to focus public attention on the national debt, voters before going to the polls should consider local debt as well. And she says that is important for one big reason. Unlike Uncle Sam, local governments can and do go bankrupt due to large amounts of local debt, as the situation facing Detroit has shown.
She says rather than focusing on all of the 'shiny things' that officials promise will be acquired by the proposal you will be deciding on, voters should spend more time thinking about the long term implications of that debt.
She says too many voters just think about how much proposals will raise their property taxes, and don't consider the entire picture.
"What does it cost you in your home in San Antonio if you're in the Northside ISD?" Combs asked.
The $648 million Northside bond issue is the largest proposal which is on the ballot in the San Antonio area this election cycle. Combs says Northside has met one her requirements for 'responsible debt,' the fact that property values in the district are increasing and the district is growing, which means there will be more properties to tax to pay off the debt.
"If in fact all of your property values are going up, you may be able to fund your debt through an increase in property values," she said.
According to Combs' 'Tell the Truth Texas' web site, the total accumulated 'tax supported debt' in the Northside ISD, before this new bond proposal, is $1.774 billion, That sounds like a lot, but it is about normal for school districts the size of Northside. The Cypress-Fairbanks ISD near Houston, which is about the same size as NISD at about 104,000 students, has roughly the same amount of tax supported debt.
But Combs, who will retire at the end of this year, says it's time for Texans to get wise to the potential impact of too much local debt, and she says voters need to consider it when deciding the fate of bond proposals.
"You have to ask yourself..what is the debt for?" she said. "Is anybody minding the store? Is the proposed construction rational, and is there a better way to do it."