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The Brief: Sept. 27, 2012

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 explaining budget revenue numbers on Jan. 10, 2011.

The Big Conversation:

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." 

Culled:

  • The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas chairs, may be re-evaluating its shunning of Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, who lost the support of the committee and much of the Republican establishment for his comments last month about "legitimate rape." Rob Jesmer, the committee's executive director, said in a statement on Wednesday that the group would "continue to monitor" the race and that Akin is a "far more preferable candidate than liberal Senator Claire McCaskill," Akin's Democratic opponent. Earlier this month, Cornyn reaffirmed the committee's refusal to financially support Akin after calling for his withdrawal in August. A spokesman for the group wouldn't say on Wednesday whether the group was reconsidering that decision.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal from a group challenging new Texas voting laws that some say make it more difficult to conduct voter registration drives, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has argued that the new laws help prevent voter fraud, called the high court's action "a victory for voter integrity." Abbott has also tried to tie Project Vote, the group that filed the high-court appeal, to ACORN, the voter-registration group brought down by a 2009 controversy involving registration fraud.
  • The Dallas Voice reports that the Austin City Council today will vote on, and likely approve, a resolution in support of gay marriage. If passed, the resolution — which is supported by groups like Equality Texas, the NAACP and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund — would make Austin the first city in Texas to formally endorse gay nuptials, according to the Voice.

"As much as I support Ron Paul, I think writing in his name will effectively be meaningless." — Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson during a Reddit Q&A on Wednesday

Must-Read:

12 days left to register to voteFind out how (and more details, like what to do if you've moved) here, or use Google's Online Voter Guide.

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