‘Texas, It’s Your Money’ offers important local taxing entity information

An understanding of how and where tax dollars are spent along with the who and why of funds collected is critical for productive public dialogues regarding government transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility.  More taxpayers are becoming interested and engaged in just how their hard-earned dollars are being spent.  With that, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs today unveiled a new web site tool, Texas, It’s Your Money, that provides detailed information regarding local taxing entities.  This resource also features a Your Money and The Taxing Facts report, the first in a series that will help Texas taxpayers “know more about all the ways in which their wallets are affected.”

Combs has spent the last months hosting town hall meetings across the state alerting Texans of the need to understand their local government debt issues – especially as financial pressures from the federal government increase and subsequently create new expense-oriented issues for local governments to address.  The first of those meetings took place in Temple on March 9 during which Combs asked “If the juggernaut from Washington is coming, how do we in Texas take any control over what we are doing?” She went on to counsel that local government spending, including the issuance of new debt, must be addressed.  Before considering any new debt, however, she encouraged knowing “the amount of debt that you are already on the hook for?”  While Texas has many great things going for it, this warning becomes more stark in understanding that our $322 billion in local government debt is second only to the state of California.

The Texas, It’s Your Money site features taxing entity maps.  In 2010, $40.2 billion in local government property taxes were assessed by 4,017 cities, counties, school districts and other special purpose districts.  The site breaks down the numbers to detail where those funds are going.  It offers similar information on local sales taxes.

The Your Money and The Taxing Facts report provides important information about how much Texas taxpayers are paying, whom they are paying and how those dollars are being spent.  Locally-assessed property tax is cited as the largest single funding source for community services.

Many taxpayers understand this includes city, counties and school districts, but are unaware of the 45 percent increase in the number of special purpose districts since 1992, from 3,426 to 4,017 in 2010.  Per the report, these districts have accounted for 87 percent of the growth in local entities levying property taxes since 1992.  Do taxpayers truly understand the nature and productivity of all of these districts?  Maybe, maybe not, but these tools and informational resources will hopefully promote new engagement with regard to tax dollars collected and spent.

Righteous indignation about the need to curtail federal spending is easy.  The real challenge comes with communities facing a critical need for honest discussion of existing local tax structures and debt levels, from a context of what these financial obligations mean to current and future taxpayers.  The points of view promoted by obviously self-interested bureaucrats and other community or business leaders are predictable.

It’s up to taxpayers to do their own homework, draw their own conclusions and have the courage to engage friends, neighbors or other community associates in a discussion in which total agreement may not be easy, but upon which our futures truly depend.  Many thanks to Comptroller Susan Combs for not only encouraging that discussion, but for also providing important resources to stimulate productive dialogue!

Lou Ann Anderson is an advocate working to create awareness regarding the Texas probate system and its surrounding culture. She is the Online Producer at www.EstateofDenial.com, a Policy Advisor with Americans for Prosperity – Texas and a Director of Women on the Wall. Lou Ann may be contacted at info@EstateofDenial.com.