Everything’s Big in Texas, Including Spending and Borrowing

Big spender
Big spender

Texas has been stomping every other state, including Virginia, when it comes to job creation. Some of that’s due to the oil-and-gas boom, some to a favorable tax and regulatory structure. And some, no doubt, can be attributed to the splurge in state and local borrowing and spending. Writes Steven Malanga for City Journal:

While Texas’s state government debt is relatively modest—just $40 billion, or $1,577 per resident—local government debt is more than four times higher: $192 billion. That’s $7,505 per capita, according to Combs’s report—the second-highest sum in the nation, behind only New York’s municipalities and far ahead of third-place California’s. Over the last decade, moreover, local debt has increased 144 percent, much faster than the rate of population increase plus inflation.

One of the larger categories of spending is for… high-school sports stadiums. More than 100 high school stadiums have opened in the past five to six years; a single project in Allen, Tex., is costing $60 million.

That spending creates a lot of construction-related jobs, but it saddles local governments with liabilities that eventually must be repaid. Meanwhile public employee pension liabilities are soaring.

In Austin, the cost of fringe benefits—consisting mostly of pension contributions and health-care spending—has exploded over the last decade, from 15 percent of the city’s budget to 30 percent. Those cost increases, according to a report in the Austin American-Statesman, are partly to blame for a sharp increase in property taxes—38 percent over the decade.

Virginia has a lot of misplaced investment priorities, but at least we’re not borrowing millions to fund a wave of high-school stadium construction, and we have made real, if incomplete, progress in tackling our own pension liabilities. While our track record in job creation may be more modest than Texas’, hopefully it is more sustainable.


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23 responses to “Everything’s Big in Texas, Including Spending and Borrowing”

  1. larryg Avatar

    One would think – the most potent impact that voters could have on excessive spending for misplaced priorities would be local elections.

    but the angry blather we hear is often frustration with Federal and State govt.

    Make no mistake – how Texas actually funds schools is at issue here.

    they have no income tax and I’m truly not sure how the sales tax plays a role but I’m pretty sure that – unlike Va – elected school boards in Texas can levy taxes on property for schools and this has led to some issues about kids educations in rich vs poor counties and this is where at least some of the debt comes from – not stadiums – actual schools that are largely funded at the local level.

    the other thing I would mention is that gas and oil interests in Texas have the right to take property from other property owners for pipelines to transport their product to market – including the Keystone folks.

  2. Breckinridge Avatar

    Texas indeed has major property taxes (to make up for no income tax) and a bifurcated system with a separate levy for the schools, on top of the levy for the rest of local government.

  3. DJRippert Avatar

    Not so quick, Jim …


    That’s $100M for a single high school’s renovation. The land was already owned by the county.

    That’s $50,000 per student. Granted, the renovation created a school that will serve generations of students.

    Arlington’s real estate tax is 97 cents per $100 per year.

    That’s $10B of assessed real estate for one year to pay for the school.

    Or, $1B of assessed real estate taxed for 10 years.

    Of course, that’s just the renovation cost. You still have to pay for the chlorine in the indoor olympic sized pool, bandwidth to connect the multiple cyber cafes, money for the smart boards in every classroom.

    1. OK, you got me. Arlington County builds gold-plated schools. What can I say?

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        Well, it is rated as the #63 high school in the US, #3 in Virginia. So, at least they seem to have used the oceans of money for something.

        I am telling you Jim – with the changing demographics in Virginia and will the increasing tilt to the left …

        You conservatives better get on the Dump Dillon’s Rule bandwagon. Pretty soon the whole state will be deifying Tim Kaine, spending and taxing like Arlington and implementing Bloomberg like bans.

        Since local government has no power you conservatives will have nowhere to hide.

        Maybe you can move to Texas. Tell them you’re from the real south in Richmond.

  4. DJRippert Avatar

    And here come the Loudoun County Hounds – complete with a new ballpark!


  5. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    What I say is that we have lost our collective minds.

    Whether it be in Texas, DC, or Virginia, we waste all these incredible sums of money on bricks and mortar while refusing to insist that these moneys be spent on teachers armed with the tools to insist that our kids become literate functional citizens rather than dupes within grotesque palaces.

    And I guess Virgina still can’t figure out how many people on the state’s educational payroll teach kids. This stuff is outrageously irresponsible. Akin to spending 2 billion dollars on a truck road to nowhere northern Va.


    See: dev.baconsrebellion.com/2013/02/spending-our-way-to-failure.html

    By and large, all we can do these days is waste vast sum of money.

  6. larryg Avatar

    Here’s what I find interesting. Go to any State, Dept of Education website, including Texas and attempt to find a short, concise description of how that State goes about funding schools.

    the only thing worse is how how roads are funded.

    so the two biggest areas where taxes are consumed – roads and education is basically – in your face rope-a-dope from many if not most states.

    but this appears to be true:

    ” Association says Texas ranks 49th in per-pupil funding among the states”


    even at 49th, Texas manages to rate at 24th in achievement – ahead of New York, Florida, California and Hawaii to name 4.


    then put education dot org in front to get the link.

  7. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Build road that Work, instead to waste vast portions of citizens lives.

    Build school that Educate kids, instead of destroying their lives by chaining them to functional illiteracy then huge debt should they try to escape.

    The former is what all citizens and their kids deserve in return for taxes.

    Far too often today what they get is the latter: American roads, schools, and colleges that waste their lives and livelihoods, and destroy their kids future.

    This is the American legacy going on now every day across the nation.

  8. larryg Avatar

    Virginia ranks 6th is the US for academic achievement and Massachusetts ranks 7th in the world.

    there are good schools in the US – in NoVa and other places.

    we also have bad schools but it’s wrong to perceive our system as failed – across the board.

    the same is true of roads IMHO.

    The interstate highway system is not a failure – it’s a brilliant innovation that we failed to protect and improve and instead allowed it to be co-opted for local and regional development.

    The highway planners did not cause this. They created something good and others consumed it for their own purposes at the detriment of the original systems mission.

    It’s wrong to blame the govt on a blanket basis for roads or education.

    it’s solves no problems and it fosters no solutions.

    we have to stop playing a blame game here.

    we all have a responsibility to propose specific ways to go forward rather than spend our time cursing the darkness – and claiming it’s a govt problem.

    For roads – make the interstates toll roads and use the money to pay for operations and maintenance – and new improvements.

    For schools, allow competition form Charters and the like but hold all schools to a standard rather than making the problem worse by getting good schools to the lucky and well-off and consigning the others to even worse schools.

    I’m all for closing bad schools as long as the kids – all of them – get a better school – not just the lucky ones.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      Your comments are putting words in my mouth or false assumptions in my head. Of course America has great public schools. Or course, it has great highways. Of course, Virginia has both. That is not the point.

      What I’m talking about are public schools like in DC, Richmond, Detroit, and so many other places. What I am talking about is gridlock traffic every day though out Northern Virginia, as in so many other places.

      The fact we succeed greatly in some places, and fail miserable in others further indicts the system. We can fix what fails so many citizens and kids so terribly, but we cannot summon the will and the character to do so.

      1. reed fawell III Avatar
        reed fawell III

        The example cited in Jim article and all the comments below make this irresponsible failure both vivid and crystal clear. Who is held accountable?
        Nobody, best I can tell.

      2. larryg Avatar

        re: ” What I’m talking about are public schools like in DC, Richmond, Detroit, and so many other places. What I am talking about is gridlock traffic every day though out Northern Virginia, as in so many other places.”

        it’s not the identified problems – it’s the supposed reasons why….

        “The fact we succeed greatly in some places, and fail miserable in others further indicts the system. ”

        the very same system that also produces successes? how so?

        “We can fix what fails so many citizens and kids so terribly, but we cannot summon the will and the character to do so.”

        why are we unable to summon the will when we do have successes?

        I don’t get it. we have demonstrable successes and that must mean that we do have the will to succeed in those cases, right?

        It’s hard for me to believe that the reason why we have successes like NoVa and Mass and failures like most urban schools is a failure of govt and bad teachers.

        there is more going on than a failure of govt when we blame govt for the failures then do not give credit to govt for the successes.

        that’s a problem.

        If we blame govt for the failures, then is not govt also responsible for the successes like NoVa and Massachusetts?

        1. reed fawell III Avatar
          reed fawell III

          You’ve back in default mode – questions. Stop asking questions and read whats already been written on the subject on this Website.

      3. reed fawell III Avatar
        reed fawell III

        To illustrate the point – take Texas education performance wise as stated in this websites article Inquisitor, Investigate thyself:

        … the Southern Commission would do well to examine some of its 800 member institutions with demonstrable problems. Take Texas. Seventy-nine of every 100 public college students in Texas start in junior college. Only two of those 79 earn a 2-year degree on time; only seven graduate in four years. Only 5 of 21 students who begin at a four-year Texas college graduate on time, and only 13 of those 21 earn a degree after studying for eight years. Far too often, college students throughout the other ten southern states accredited by the agency confront similar fates. Four-year graduation rates include:

        Florida – 35.6%
        Georgia – 24.3%
        Kentucky – 20%
        Louisiana – 15.8%;
        Mississippi – 22.4%
        North Carolina – 36.5%
        Tennessee – 31.9%
        Virginia – 45%
        West Virginia – 22.2%

        The reasons are many for such drop out rates …

        So what does Texas do to fix its problem of failing to educate its kids? According to Jim’s article: “One of the larger categories of (Texas) spending is for… high-school sports stadiums. More than 100 high school stadiums have opened in the past five to six years; a single project in Allen, Tex., is costing $60 million.”

        That irresponsible spending tells us volumes about Texas values and where they are headed, despite all the chest beating and hype.

  9. larryg Avatar

    Some state govt do a credible job on education, some not as good, others worse but the narrative that if govt is involved that the outcome is always bad, especially in the context of public education which then becomes the rationale for private/charter schools.

    I just think that’s a false narrative given the fact that we do in fact have some of the best public schools in the world.

  10. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Its odd how folks who criticize failing government programs are so often accused of being anti-government. Indeed of trying to destroy government.

    How odd. That someone who demands that public schools do their job are always trying to damage public schools, even trying to shut them down.

    Is not the reverse often the case? That critics want public schools to work? Want them to succeed? Want for their students good education? And so step out into a public place and energetically demand it. Why are they attacked to the very thing they are trying to make work for all citizens?

    And why is it that those who are so eager for big government so rarely insist on good government? Why are they so permissive of bad government?

    Why indeed are they so unwilling to admit to bad government when confronted with overwhelming evidence of it, much less address its abject failures and so cure the harm those failures inflict on their fellow citizens?

    See “Where have Virginia’s Education Dollars Been Going” published on this Website last March.

  11. larryg Avatar

    It’s not just “bad” govt when the very same govt produces BOTH good and bad schools at the same time.

    It’s a problem to implicate govt for the bad ones but not also credit for the good ones and to admit that the same govt produced BOTH

  12. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    I’m for strong effective problem solving Government everywhere. Why not? We all pay for it. Governments works for us. Should we not demand it?

  13. larryg Avatar

    I’m for NOT blaming govt every time…. for every failure…. as if there is nothing but failure – with govt.

    it’s a bad narrative and the truth is that there are, in fact, good public schools under the cognizance of govt.

    If govt can be involved in good public schools then why would we blame govt 100% for bad schools and say the solution is to get govt out of all schools?

    I simply object to a narrative that I feel is ideological-driven and untrue.

  14. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    If govt can be involved in good public schools then why would we blame govt 100% for bad schools and say the solution is to get govt out of all schools?

    Good point – We’re all to blame.

  15. larryg Avatar

    Govt is not only us; govt is clearly capable of doing a competent job …. as well as a miserable job.

    When the same govt – even a local govt has some schools that are the best in the country and at the same time other schools that are bad – then blaming govt for the bad schools and not giving them credit for the good ones is as bad or worse than saying that all bad schools have all bad teachers and all good schools have all good teachers.

    It’s not so simple but now days we are well into a sound-bite culture when it comes to our frustration with our less than stellar performance on schools overall.

    we can blame, bad teachers, unions, and govt for the failures but what do we attribute the successes to – even when there are unions and govt involved – as in Massachusetts where not all schools are excellent but there are enough excellent schools – across the state – run by govt and staffed by union members – to rank 7th in the world.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      “Govt is not only us”

      I suspect it reflects our society – the good, the bad, the ugly – “It’s not in the stars. It’s in ourselves,” to quote the bard.

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