in Houston, Texas
Texas has racked up one of the biggest debts in the nation, report says
Monday, Oct 24, 2011, 12:17PM CST
By Trent Seibert

Texas has racked up $282 billion in debt -- one of the highest state debts in the nation -- according to a report released today by a D.C.-area nonprofit.

In total, the nonprofit State Budget Solutions found, the debt of the nation’s 50 states is more than $4 trillion.

“These deficit numbers are staggering and should be frightening to the American public. Due to budget gimmicks, many states fail to give an adequate picture of how much trouble they are really in,” said Bob Williams, president of State Budget Solutions. “This report makes it clear that if legislators in Texas don't act immediately and decisively, their state will be facing a budget crises that we have never seen before.”
The report looked at all state debt and future spending obligations. It found that California had the largest deficit with more than $612 billion. In addition to the Lone Star and the Golden states, other top state debtors include New York, New Jersey and Illinois.

Vermont, North Dakota and South Dakota were among the states with the smallest debts.

This report comes on the heels of a Fort Worth Star-Telegram story on budget gimmicks used by Texas lawmakers.

From the Star-Telegram story by Aman Batheja:
By delaying payments and effectively writing IOUs this year, lawmakers kicked billions of dollars in costs to the Legislature that will convene in 2013. At the same time, they arranged to collect hundreds of millions of dollars earlier than expected, preventing that money from being available in the next legislative session.

The financial maneuvers complicate assessments of the state's economic picture. While Gov. Rick Perry's presidential campaign has repeatedly touted him as having six balanced budgets under his belt, others don't agree, especially when looking at the current two-year budget.

"If he wants to say that, that's fine, but in all reality the budget is not balanced," said state Rep. Garnet Coleman of Houston, a Democratic leader in the House. "I believe it's disingenuous."

Talmadge Heflin, director of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation's Center for Fiscal Policy and a former House member, is also critical of the one-time fixes and gimmicks lawmakers use to make budgets look good on paper. While this year's budget was technically balanced, Heflin said, "If you look at what will have to be spent in the biennium, you can certainly make the argument that from a practical standpoint ... it is not."
If there is some good news for Texas in the report, it’s that when you divide outstanding debt up per-person in the state, Texas is in the middle of the pack, at $1,568 per Texan, based on state-issued financial reports.

That’s lower than Rhode Island’s per-capita debt of $3,000 or Oregon’s $2,960.

States with the lowest per-capita debt include Nebraska at $21, Wyoming at $78 and Indiana at $196.

Read the full State Budget Soutions report here.

Editor's note: State Budget Solutions partners with the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a nonprofit journalism group which has paid Texas Watchdog for training services.
Contact Trent Seibert at or 832-316-4994 or on Twitter at @trentseibert or @texaswatchdog.

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Photo of 'IOU in a Piggy Bank’' from Flickr user Images_of_Money and the website Tax Brackets via the Creative Commons license.
m conkle
Tuesday, 10/25/2011 - 12:13PM

You article on Teaxs having such a large debt is somewhat misleading to me. I am under the impression the Texas Constitution prohibits the state from having a budget that would create a deficit. It is a pay as you go form of government financing mechinism. I am also wondering if the fact that a Texas budget is for a two year period, not one, was considered in compiling these figures.. I am also concerned this article saw fit to bring up Governor Perry's presidential campaign with remarks from a Democrat, State Representative Garnet Coleman, without allowing for a Republican rebuttal. I do not find myself lending very much credibility to this article because of that, and I hope others find that to be the case also.

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