In Debt We Trust: Updated Texas Comptroller “Debt at a Glance”


With more than 50 local bond elections coming in May, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs today announced updated “Debt at a Glance” Web pages which now detail finances for every city, school district, and community college district in the state.

DEBT at a Glance

The Comptroller’s office has compiled debt statistics on all Texas cities, school districts and community college districts, as well as for Texas and the state’s 100 most populous counties. You’ll find a wealth of data in each user-friendly, one-stop summary. We’re currently collecting data for the remaining Texas counties, so if you don’t find the county information you are looking for, please check back soon.

City Debt

Incorporated cities, towns and villages in Texas can issue both tax-supported and revenue-funded debt. The majority of city debt — 57 percent — is backed by project revenue such as user fees.

Cities’ debt outstanding increased by 53.8 percent between 2003 and 2012. Cities held a larger share of local government debt outstanding than any other government type from 2001 until 2008 and in 2010.

Map of Texas Cities’ Debt Outstanding
as of 8/31/12

In fiscal 2012, cities held 32.3 percent of all local government debt outstanding — behind only school districts, which held 32.7 percent.

In the map, the darkest circles represent the communities holding the most outstanding debt per resident. Debt per resident in 2012 ranged from $2.88 in the small city of Ector in Fannin County to $20,326 in Westlake, a suburb of Fort

See Debt per Capita  2013 map here  to find your city.

Download 2013 city debt data. (CSV, 122K)
Download a PDF of our September 2012 report Your Money and Local Debt (PDF, 4.5M) — A “Texas, It’s Your Money” report.

Texas Debt

In the fiscal arena, Texas is known as a “pay-as-you-go” state. The Texas Constitution prohibits our state government from spending more money than it receives. Unlike the federal budget, the state budget always must balance; so-called “deficit spending” is not allowed. But just because Texas is required by law to live within its means doesn’t mean it can’t borrow money.

The state takes on debt for various public purposes, typically by selling bonds. Usually the proceeds pay for capital projects and long-term programs. They can range from highway construction and water development to college student loans and cancer research. The Legislature appropriates funds in the state budget to repay almost all state debt, although a few entities may issue their own debt individually.

Debt Glossary

Authorized But Unissued Debt refers to Tax-supported Debt that has been approved by the voters but not yet issued.

Certificates of Obligation (COs) allow certain cities, counties and certain hospital or health districts to issue debt without voter approval (unless a referendum is petitioned) and are backed by tax revenue, fee revenues or a combination of the two.

Debt can refer to public securities issued or outstanding public securities, including general obligation pension bonds. It does not include long-term liabilities that are not public securities (e.g., unfunded pension and other post-employment benefit liabilities) or are not reported to the Bond Review Board. This term includes both Revenue-supported Debt and Tax-supported Debt.

Debt Issued is the total principal amount of debt sold. The amount of debt issued depends on the will of the voters (in the case of most tax-supported debt), action of the governing body, market conditions and budgetary needs.

Debt Outstanding is the principal owed over the remaining life of all debt issues.

Debt Service is the annual combined principal and interest amount needed to repay all debt on time and in full.

Interest and Sinking (I&S) Tax Rate is the tax rate levied by districts to pay for any bond debt that may have been issued to fund the construction of schools and facilities.

Lease Purchase is financing the purchase of an asset over time through lease payments that include principal and interest. Lease purchases can be financed through a private vendor.

Lease-Revenue Obligations are issued by a public facilities corporation created by a school district, used for acquiring, constructing, and equipping school facilities, and payable from lease rental obligations of the district. Commonly paid from available unrestricted revenue, including surplus maintenance and operations tax proceeds.

Maintenance and Operations (M&O) Tax Rate is the tax rate levied by districts to fund the operations and maintenance of schools, including maintenance tax notes, and contracts to finance movable equipment.

Maintenance and Operations Tax-Supported Debt is debt payable from revenue other than dedicated debt service taxes, including maintenance and operations taxes. May be used for any purpose other than payment of debt service, including maintenance and operating expenses.

Revenue-supported Debt is secured by non-property tax revenue such as sales tax, tuition, admissions to athletic events, tolls, or water, gas, or electric municipal utility charges. As used in this site, it does not include debt that is also payable from property taxes. Revenue-supported debt generally does not require voter approval.

Tax-supported Debt is backed by a pledge of property taxes levied within the issuer’s boundaries. Some tax-supported debt may be secured by a combination of property taxes and other revenue sources. It generally must be voter-approved (with exceptions for COs, tax notes, school district maintenance tax notes, certain county road bonds and contractual obligations for personal property.)

Voter Approved Tax-supported Debt is secured by a pledge of a sufficient property tax dedicated to pay debt service. May be used for school capital projects such as buildings, renovations, technology, athletic facilities, school buses and performing arts facilities or to refund maintenance and operations tax-supported debt.


The outstanding debt data in Debt at a Glance has been obtained from the Bond Review Board, which compiles data reported by state agencies and local governments that neither the Board nor the Comptroller has independently verified. State agencies are not required to report all installment purchases but certain lease-purchase obligations are included. In addition, some state debt issued before 2006 may not be reflected.

Local governments are not required to report data for debt that is either not considered a public security as defined by state statute or does not require approval by the Office of the Attorney General of the state of Texas such as certain short-term notes, certificates of obligation delivered to contractors, bond anticipation notes and lease purchase agreements for personal property. Additionally, certain installment and lease-purchase obligations and cash defeasances of debt are not reported, while debt issued by a controlled non-profit corporation may be included as debt of its sponsoring city, county, or district. Debt includes principal but excludes interest, including compounded interest on capital appreciation bonds. Data for local debt issued before 2002 is included as estimates of debt outstanding. Outstanding debt excludes debt for which sufficient funds have been escrowed to retire the debt either from proceeds of refunding debt or, for 2012 and later debt totals only, from other sources. Consequently, the reported debt data may vary from actual debt outstanding, and the variance for a specific issuer could be substantial.

Debt at a Glance is intended to inform citizens, not to present comprehensive data for investors. Data is provided as of the date indicated and may not reflect debt, debt service, population or other data as of any subsequent date. For fuller, more detailed or more current information, see the issuers’ web sites or their filings at Electronic Municipal Market Access (EMMA®). The Comptroller does not control or guarantee the accuracy, completeness or currency of any such site. When you access any such site, you will be leaving the Comptroller’s website.

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