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.
“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.”
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."
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 email@example.com 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.