Defeat of local government transparency bills show Texas taxpayer betrayal

Congratulations Texas Association of School Boards, Texas Association of School Administrators, Texas Municipal League, Texas Association of Counties and a host of other taxpayer-funded organizations that helped torpedo SB 14 and HB 14 during the 83rd Texas Legislature’s regular session, bills that would have provided taxpayers with new transparency regarding local government spending and debt.

Opposition to the legislation is understandable. It would have disrupted school districts, cities, counties and special purpose districts’ abilities to easily misrepresent existing debt obligations to constituents – the taxpayers responsible for that debt.

Printing debt levels (that’s principal and interest even in the Belton ISD) on ballots when bond initiatives are put before voters was one threat the legislation posed. After all, taxpayers may not authorize new debt if provided the accurate information an election ballot would encourage. It would also have required ongoing posting of financial information online along with detailed long-term debt obligations.

A release of more debt information prior to issuing certificates of obligation (CO), a financial instrument increasingly used to sidestep bond elections, would have been required. Taxing authorities would additionally have been blocked from issuing COs for projects failing to get voter approval through a bond election – including jails.

So who cares about the bonds local school districts, cities, counties and a host of other special purpose districts are issuing? All Texans should. After all, we’re on our way to becoming a Lone Star State-sized version of Greece. Here’s how and why.

Per the Texas Bond Review Board, Texas’ local government debt is more than $342 billion. Unlike figures reported by most local government entities, this includes principal plus interest. The Lone Star State is second only to California in total debt and second only to New York in per capita debt.

Texas is indeed a “red” state – especially with our debt. Those who enjoy state rivalries should make no mistake that our local debt outpaces many “blue” states and is highly competitive with others. While Texas’ economy is noteworthy, we’re ranked # 14 on the Mercatus Center freedom ranking – largely because of our massive local government debt.

In a recent Who Opposed Local Government Transparency? You Have A Right To Know, Americans for Prosperity-Texas State Director Peggy Venable wrote:

Cities, counties and school districts along with their associations officially opposed a good government bill which would have provided taxpayer transparency in local government debt. The bill, HB 14 and SB 14, failed to pass in the 2013 Texas legislative session. Taxpayers deserve to know who opposed the bill and what local taxing entities used taxpayer dollars to fight transparency.

She goes on to provide the following witness lists for those opposing local government debt transparency at this session’s legislative hearings:

WITNESS LIST for those who signed in opposing local government debt transparency.

HB 14 hearing March 18, testifying against:

Allison, Jim – (County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas)
Burroughs, Mark – (City of Denton)
Chandler, Clayton – (City of Mansfield)
Clark, Lisa – (Self; Texas Association of Builders)
Cohen, Howard – (Schwartz, Page & Harding L.L.P.)
Hernandez, James – (Bond Counsel to Harris County and Harris County Toll Road Authority)
Lancaster, Brad – (Fast Growth School Coalition and Lake Travis ISD)
Lee, Donald – (Texas Conference of Urban Counties)
Leuschel, Jeff – (Self)
Longley, Bill – (Texas Municipal League)
Maxwell, David – (Assoc of Water Board Directors)
Phillis, Peter – (City of Mansfield, Texas)
Rundell, Mick – (Self; City of Georgetown)
Scarth, Danny -(City of Fort Worth)
Simpson, Terry – (San Patricio County)
Streater, Joy – (County District Clerks Assn)
Underwood, Byron – (Texas Assoc. of Counties)
Van Eenoo, Ed – (Self; City of Austin)
Wilcox, James – (Texas association of school boards, Texas Association of School Administrators, Texas School Alliance)

On the Senate side, testifying against:

Allison, Jim General Counsel -(County Judges and Commissioners Assoc. of TX), Austin, TX
Burroughs, Mark – Mayor (City of Denton)
Chandler, Clayton W. – City Manager (City of Mansfield)
Cohen, Howard Attorney – (also providing written testimony) (Schwartz, Page & Harding, L.L.P.), Houston, TX
Hernandez, James – Attorney, Bond Counsel (Harris County and Harris County Toll Road Authority)
Lee, Donald – Executive Director (Texas Conference of Urban Counties), Austin, TX
Leuschel, Jeff Attorney – (McCall Parkhurst & Horton), Dallas, TX
Longley, Bill Legal Counsel – (also providing written testimony) (Texas Municipal League), Austin, TX
Masterson, Harry Developer – (Texas Association of Builders), Austin, TX
Maxwell, David – (Assoc. of Water Board Directors (President)), SA, TX
Rue, Karen – Superintendent, Northwest ISD (Fast Growth School Coalition), Ft. Worth, TX
Scarth, Danny – City Council Member (City of Fort Worth), Fort Worth
Simpson, Terry – County Judge (San Patricio County), Sinton, TX
Underwood, Byron – Cherokee County Commissioner (Texas Assoc of Counties), Rusk, TX
West, Steve – CFO Georgetown ISD (TASB TASA Texas School Alliance), Georgetown, TX

Registering against but not testifying at the Senate hearing:

Carr, Snapper – Attorney (Andrews County), Austin
Carr, Snapper – Attorney (City of Sugar Land), Austin, TX
Halbert, Wayne – General Manager Harlingen Irrigation District (Texas Irrigation Council), San Benito, TX
Hale, Angela – Govt. Affairs Consultant (City of McKinney)
Hord, Roger – business manager (West Houston Association), Houston
Hughes, Lisa – consultant (Tarrant Regional Water District), Austin, TX
Israelson, Mark – Director of Policy & Government Relations (City of Plano), Plano, TX
James, Jerry – (City of Victoria), Austin, TX
McCraw, Ken – Executive Director (Tx Assn Community Schools), Cedar Park
Mendez, Mark – Assistant County Administrator (Tarrant County), Ft. Worth, TX
Mitchell, Seth – Assistant to the Bexar County Manager (Bexar County Commissioners Court), San Antonio, TX
Palmer, Terrell – Investment Banker (First Southwest), Houston, TX
Patterson, T.J. – (City of Fort Worth), Fort Worth
Phillis, Peter K. – Director of Business Services (City of Mansfield, Texas), Mansfield, TX
Robbins, Dean – Asst. Gen. Manager (Texas Water Conservation Assn.)
Short, Jim – Lobbyist (Houston Real Estate Council), Fulshear, TX
Short, Jim L- lobbyist (Fort Bend County, TX), Fulshear, TX
Stout, Bob – (The Woodlands Development Co. / Newland Communities), The Woodlands
Sturzl, Frank – Legislative Consultant, HillCo Partners (City of Abilene, TX), Austin, TX
Sugg, Paul – Legislative Director (Texas Association of Counties), Austin, TX
Thomas, Neil – Attorney (Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P.), Houston

Providing testimony against:

Clark, Catherine – (Texas Association of School Boards Texas Association of School Administrators)
Smith, Michelle – Executive Director (Fast Growth School Coalition), Buda, TX
Tagliabue, Tom – Director, Intergovernmental Relations (City of Corpus Christi)

Registering against but not testifying at the House hearing:

Anderson, David D – (Arlington ISD Board of Trustees)
Bresnen, Steve – (North Harris County Regional Water Authority)
Carr, Snapper – (Andrews County)
Ellmer, Mindy – (Tarrant Regional Water District)
Halbert, Wayne – (Texas Irrigation Council)
Hale, Angela – (City of McKinney)
Hord, Roger – (West Houston Association)
Israelson, Mark – (City of Plano)
James, Jerry – (City of Victoria)
Kell, Kassandra – (City of Irving)
May, Jennifer – (City of Sugar Land)
McCraw, Ken – (Texas Association of Community Schools)
Mendez, Mark – (Tarrant County Commissioners Court)
Mitchell, Seth – (Bexar County Commissioners Court)
Palmer, Terrell – (First Southwest Company)
Patterson, TJ – (City of Fort Worth)
Robbins, Dean – (Texas Water Conservation Association)
Rue, Karen – (Fast Growth School Coalition)
Shields, Susie – (San Antonio Mobility Coalition)
Short, Jim – (Ft Bend County, Texas)
Short, Jim – (Houston Real Estate council)
Smith, Michelle – (Fast Growth School Coalition)
Stout, Bob – (Newland Communities Texas, The Woodlands Development Co.)
Sturzl, Frank – (City of Abilene, Texas)
Sugg, Paul – (Texas Association of Counties)
Tagliabue, Tom – (City of Corpus Christi)

These organizations and the taxpayer-funded entities they represent don’t want transparency. Voters rarely ask the probing questions, bond-seeking officials rarely offer the full picture. That’s how Texas’ local debt has grown 72% in the past 10 years.

Remember all those bond elections that just weren’t worth the hassle of learning about – much less voting in? That debt is now the legacy with which our children – even grandchildren – are left.

Our $17 trillion federal government debt is indeed a problem – one local officials hope remains a focal point.

Government spending and debt is a multi-front battle with local officials using local tax dollars to fund the side that opposes taxpayer interests – including basic transparency. It’s time taxpayers understand the reality their elected officials have created.

Lou Ann Anderson is an information activist and the editor of Watchdog Wire – Texas. As a Policy Analyst with Americans for Prosperity – Texas, she writes and speaks about a variety of public policy topics. Lou Ann is the Creator and Online Producer at Estate of Denial®, a website that addresses the growing issue of probate abuse in which wills, trusts, guardianships and powers of attorney are used to loot assets from intended beneficiaries or heirs.