Local government debt in Texas has reached alarming levels, and the situation is being made worse by the process, according to a new Austin American-Statesmanarticle from the Center for Local Governance’s Jess Fields.
From the article:
In May, Texas school districts held bond elections asking taxpayers to approve more than $6 billion in bonds for a variety of projects and purposes. That’s a lot to ask of voters who are weary of mounting public debt. Restless taxpayers might even choose to reject large bond packages. To avoid that threat to the status quo, school districts are figuring out ways to make participation in local elections more difficult than ever before. [emphasis mine]
It starts with May elections.
At first glance it is a strange choice, because choosing to hold May elections requires those school districts or cities to foot the cost of the separate election…
But the cost of holding elections in May — in most cases, no more than five figures — is a small price to pay for a school district to restrict turnout and virtually ensure that their big bonds pass. Even when localities hold their regular elections in November, they may still choose to hold bond elections specifically in May to take advantage of lower voter turnout.
Because local governments are not required to include existing debt in ballot language, or mention the staggering amounts of interest that taxpayers will also be on the hook for, bond propositions sit on ballots without any context at all.
Without adequate information, confusing early voting locations that shift from site to site, and inconvenient election dates that are out of step with the rest of the election schedule, it’s no wonder that voters are frustrated with the status quo in May bond elections, and so few turn out. [emphasis mine]
It’s these types of structural concerns that, in part, led to several conservative organizations—including the Foundation, Texas Public Policy Action, Americans for Prosperity-Texas, Empower Texans, and Grassroots America: We the People—to recently unveil a set of commonsense principles for state and local officials to consider when going further into debt.
It’s critical that Texas begin addressing not only the ocean of red ink that exists at the local level ($328.1 billion as of FY 2013), but also the process that enables it.