The City of Dallas has advanced nine charter amendments on November’s ballot. The first would require that taxpayers see the total cost of future debt propositions on the ballot, a key transparency reform advocated for by Texans for Fiscal Responsibility and a coalition of other organizations.
Unfortunately, the reform does not require that future ballots disclose the city’s current indebtedness nor does it require that taxpayers be told how approving the debt will impact their property taxes. In any case, it’s certainly an important step in the right direction.
The exact language of Proposition No. 1 reads:
“Shall Chapter XXI, Section 2 of the Dallas City Charter be amended to require that the ballot for the approval of a bond program must state the amount of bond issuance authorization, estimated amount of repayment including principal and interest based on current market conditions, and the purpose of the bonds?
To date, school districts and other governments have refused to voluntarily disclose the total cost of new debt on the ballot, an intentional tactic that makes the cost of debt appear smaller to voters. In fact, some districts like Birdville ISD (Tarrant County) have asked the legislature to force them to be transparent, after their lawyers conveniently cited “confusion” with existing state statutes that already allow them significant flexibility.
Hiding the cost of interest has been extremely expensive for taxpayers. Of the $328 billion in local debt that Texans currently owe, over 40%, or $128 billion, is interest expense.
Taxpayers across Texas should demand higher levels of transparency and fiscal responsibility. At the municipal level, officials have the authority to take Dallas’ lead and propose charter amendments that safeguard taxpayers. School boards don’t have charters but they can vote on and pass resolutions that require the district to adopt “best practices” that serve as a written commitment established in the public record.
For the last two years, each May and November election has contained over $6 billion in new local debt (excluding interest) on ballots statewide. Texas families shouldering rising tax burdens can no longer afford to be left in the dark on local debt.
*Below is a list of reform planks TFR and the CLG coalition is encouraging local officials to adopt. For a copy of the official announcement, click HERE.
Guiding Principles for Local Debt Transparency, Accountability, & Fair Elections
- Arm Voters with Basic Fiscal Information at the Ballot Box
- Avoid Using Long-Term Debt to Finance Short-Term Consumables and Operating Expenses
- End the Use of Exotic (Non-Traditional) Public Financing Schemes like CABs
- Independent, Outside Auditing and Online Assurance for Use of Funds
- Separate Ballot Propositions for Major Projects Financed
- Conduct Fair Elections, Adopt Minimum Turnout Requirements