One hundred forty-eight members of the Texas House passed a handicapped bill that won’t easily provide Texas taxpayers information on how new bonds will affect their tax bills.

According to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, local debt is an already large and  growing problem for Texas taxpayers. As of this year, the State of Texas has over $354 billion in local debt, of which public school districts have the largest share at 37.6 percent. Texas ranks second to New York in local debt in the nation, when compared on a per capita basis.

House Bill 477, as passed by the Texas House, offers a number of the same solutions previously proposed by both TPPF and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. It would require that voters be provided with:

  • The estimated combined principal and interest expense of the new debt to be paid by the taxpayer, if approved.
  • The estimated combined principal and interest of all current debt of the taxing entity that taxpayers are already obligated to repay.
  • The estimated maximum increase in the tax burden that property taxpayers would have to pay if the proposed bond passes.

But while advocates for bond transparency have long advocated for this information to be include on the ballot, HB 477 only requires local governments to post the information online, guaranteeing that far fewer voters actually see it.

Because soaring local debt in Texas is one of the driving factors behind historic property tax increases, why shouldn’t voters be provided this information at the ballot box instead of an obscure website they may or may not ever visit?

Taxpayers should be provided this information easily so they can understand the full cost as a result of their vote. HB 477 should therefore be amended so that it will be on the ballot, instead of on a website. Without improvements in public awareness and ballot transparency, the small percentage of voters who manage to vote in local elections will continue to make important tax and spending decisions without understanding their true cost.

HB 477 now moves to the Texas Senate.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.