Texas Comptroller Susan Combs joined legislative leadership today to announce the filing of legislation aimed at improving government transparency and empowering taxpayers to make informed decisions about taxes and public debt.
Senate Bill 14 and House Bill 14, authored by State Senator Tommy Williams and State Representative Jim Pitts and focused primarily on government transparency, would provide taxpayers with vital information about government spending and debt.
Senate Bill 13 and House Bill 13, authored by State Senator Robert Duncan and State Representative Bill Callegari and focused primarily on public pensions, would require increased reporting for all public pension systems and calls for essential actuarial information to be posted online so it is readily available and easy for taxpayers to find.
“People need to know what their government is doing, and how it spends their money,” Combs said. “We need to implement common-sense changes that put vital information about government spending and debt in front of the public.”
“For government to be held accountable for efficiently providing essential services, Texans need to be able to track how and where their hard-earned dollars are spent,” said Texas Governor Rick Perry. “I applaud Comptroller Combs’ efforts to work with the Legislature on bills that improve accountability and provide more information to taxpayers.”
“We all want transparency in government, and with the number one economy in the country, Texas should be the national model for financial transparency,” said Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst.
“Government becomes more accessible and accountable when the public understands how their money is spent,” said Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus. “This legislation will increase transparency and help local governments better communicate with taxpayers.”
Most voters don’t know how much debt they are carrying, and how much debt service they are currently paying before they choose to vote for more debt. This transparency legislation would require that additional information be included on the ballot when new debt is presented to voters for approval, such as total debt outstanding, debt service, and existing per capita debt obligation.
The transparency legislation would also put limitations on certificates of obligation (CO) which governments use to issue debt without voter approval.
“Senate Bill 14 will ensure the CO process is not abused and will give the power back to the taxpayers, the people who are actually paying the freight, by requiring governments to tell voters how they can petition for an election, and by also reducing the number of voters required to petition for an election,” Williams said.
Finally, the transparency legislation would require all taxing entities to post financial information online, including revenues and expenditures and detailed information on long-term debt obligations.
“When we write the budget each session, we require transparency and access to information,” Pitts said. “Texas taxpayers deserve the same level of transparency and openness, and House Bill 14 will deliver just that.”
The pension legislation would require public pensions across the state to publicly report actuarial information, including net investment returns for each of the last 10 fiscal years, as well as one-year, three-year, five-year, 10-year, 30-year and since-inception rolling rates of return.
“It is important for taxpayers to feel confident that public pensions in Texas are being managed properly to ensure long term financial health,” Duncan said. “Senate Bill 13 aims to give citizens the information they need to feel secure about public pensions.”
In addition to increased reporting requirements, the pension legislation also calls for mandatory education for public pension system administrators.
“House Bill 13 is aimed at protecting the taxpayers who foot the bills for public pensions and the employees who deserve to know if their retirements are financially secure,” Callegari said.
Both the transparency and pension legislation call for measures similar to the recommendations Combs recently outlined in her series of reports titled, Texas It’s Your Money. Each of the reports focused on financial obligations of taxpayers and provided suggestions on how governments could provide more transparency regarding those obligations. For more information, please visit: www.texasitsyourmoney.org.