The issuance of debt by government officials is a passive form of taxation, because debt issued today will require taxes on future income. And because borrowing requires the payment of interest, the cost to taxpayers is typically twice the amount borrowed and spent.
Stated differently, a $50 million school financed with bonds can actually cost taxpayers $100 million over the life of the bond. In an effort to understate borrowing costs, government advocates never publicize the interest cost for voters to consider.
In our quest to publish upcoming bond propositions in government districts statewide, we searched for a state repository of information. What we stumbled upon was yet another bureaucratic nightmare. It’s becoming clearer as to the causes of our statewide debt epidemic; a blatant disregard of basic transparency. Even more troubling, although not surprising, is the government’s inability to share basic information internally between agencies.
If the government doesn’t openly share information between agencies, how can we expect individual citizens to connect the dots?
Politicians will tell you that they have implemented several transparency measures to protect taxpayers from slippery borrowing tactics. Districts wishing to issue debt are required to complete and send a form to the Attorney General’s office for review. Unfortunately for voters, this information won’t be aggregated or analyzed until after the November election, where citizens will be asked to approve new bonds.
Another government agency, the Texas Bond Review Board, of which the Governor, Lt. Governor, State Comptroller and House Speaker are all board members, also collects and analyzes bond data. Instead of the A.G.’s office sending them the relevant information, or requiring districts to report upcoming propositions directly to the board, taxpayers are asked to rely upon the board’s ten person staff’s benevolent due diligence to literally hunt it down.
It doesn’t take an efficiency expert to recognize that smart policy would require the government to send their own review agency the information necessary for review, does it?
Consequently, the tiny agency does not have the time or resources to research the thousands of taxing districts across the state. Although they do post their findings online, their best efforts only make the information available thirty days prior to Election Day.
Is it any wonder why a vast majority of voters are unaware when bond propositions are placed on a ballot? This is not an accident; it is intentional. After all, taxing districts spend your hard-earned tax dollars lobbying the legislature to create rules that make it easy for them to trick you.
Common-sense in government is truly uncommon. I’m reminded of the wise words of Henry David Thoreau when he famously wrote, “The best government is that which governs least.”