State budget concerns may have engulfed the last legislative session, but Texas officials are now sounding the alarm over another looming fiscal predicament: local debt.
Comptroller Susan Combs issued a report Wednesday showing that city and county debt in Texas both grew by more than 120 percent from 2001 to 2011, and that Texas now bears the second-highest amount of local debt among the 10 most populous states, the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News report.
Among the state's major cities, San Antonio carries the highest debt per capita at $7,100, followed by Austin at $6,725, Houston at $6,246 and Dallas at $5,473.
As the Austin American-Statesman notes, Combs, who has expressed interest in running for lieutenant governor in 2014, denied any political intent in issuing the report. Rather, she said, the data should be used to encourage leaders to focus on local spending and to educate voters.
"As taxpayers step into a voting booth to approve new debt, government should tell them how much debt they are already responsible for repaying and how much debt service is included," Combs said in a statement. "Elected officials are responsible for telling the taxpayers they serve about the price tag associated with new and existing debt."
But the report stirred criticism among local leaders who said cities and counties have been forced to deal with state budget cuts and unfunded mandates, made all the more difficult by a booming state population.
"A lot of the debt that counties have had to incur is really through the process of unfunded mandates that come through Austin," Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff, a Republican, told the Express-News. "They're notorious for passing responsibility onto us for [programs] but not giving us funding sources to do it."