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Dewhurst Sets Sights on Local Debt, Incentive Programs

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst instructed two Senate committees Wednesday to investigate how much debt cities and school districts are issuing and the value of economic development programs.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst during TribLive event on Jan. 16, 2014

The rising amount of debt issued by Texas cities and school districts and the value of economic development programs will be issues in the next legislative session, if the interim charges Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst issued Wednesday are any guide.

Dewhurst tasked the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations to reform the way local entities issue new debt. The committee will "increase transparency of debt at the local level and make recommendations that will increase citizen awareness and understanding of a local government's fiscal state," according to Dewhurst's charge.

Among the issues the committee will consider is whether entities should have to put more information on the ballot when asking voters to approve new debt, including their current outstanding debt and existing per capita debt.

Texas now bears the second-highest amount of local debt among the 10 most populous states, according to a September 2012 report released by Comptroller Susan Combs, who has worked to raise awareness on the issue. Last year, Combs championed legislation that would have required entities to include more information on ballots during bond elections, including their current outstanding debt and existing per capita debt. The measures failed but are now likely to come up again as Dewhurst's charge includes those specific policy proposals.

Dewhurst also instructed the the Senate Committee on Economic Development to look into the state's economic development programs. Specifically, he asked for the committee to "study and make recommendations to develop a biennial state review process for economic development programs to determine their effectiveness in keeping Texas economically competitive while ensuring taxpayer dollars are used wisely."

Dewhurst is planning to issue more interim charges in the next few weeks, according to his office. 

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