Texas’ debt problem was well underway before it received federal bailouts


By Bethany Blankley

As Congress debates another $1 trillion stimulus package, efforts are underway to determine how much more federal bailout money states should receive.

According to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's HEROES Act, Texas would receive an additional $34 billion in federal bailout money. How much of this the Lone Star State would actually receive has yet to be determined.

But according to a financial analysis of Texas’ fiscal health, Texas already had a Texas-sized debt problem well before the state began its coronavirus shut down in March.

According to the nonprofit organization, Truth in Accounting, Texas earned a “D” grade for its fiscal health because its “overall financial condition worsened by 20 percent from the previous fiscal year” due to heavy hits to the oil industry, and because of a pre-existing $98.7 billion debt burden.

Texas’ elected officials “have made repeated financial decisions that have left the state with a debt burden of $98.7 billion that “stem mostly from unfunded retirement obligations that have accumulated over the years,” the report states.

Of its $264.4 billion in retirement benefits promised, $58.8 billion in pension and $71.4 billion in retiree health care benefits remain unfunded.

In a separate analysis from fiscal watchdog Open the Books, Texas “is in trouble” because more than 78,000 public employees earn more than $100,000 annually, a cost to taxpayers of $12 billion.

Last year, roughly 18,600 public employees out-earned Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s $153,750 salary.

Open the Books identified the most highly compensated public employees in Texas in a report first published by Forbes. It also found that they are among the most highly compensated in the nation, including:

City managers earning up to $880,000 annually;

Community college presidents earning up to $505,000;

Library directors earning $202,875, and

Speech writers for university presidents earning up to $140,000.

Using Open the Books’ interactive mapping tool, taxpayers can identify how much six-figure public employees are earning in their neighborhoods across the country.

Of Texas public employees earning more than $100,000 annually, Open the Books identified 22,656 Texas municipal employees, 8,975 public school employees, 8,310 state government employees, and 16,981 state college and university employees – and lists the highest earners by city.

The cost to taxpayers exceeds their salaries. Taxpayers are also on the hook for their health care and pension plan costs.

“Texas’ reported net position is understated by $14.8 billion, largely because the state delays recognizing gains resulting from changes in the assumptions used to calculate the amount of unfunded retiree health care benefits,” TIA notes.

Every taxpayer would need to pay $12,100 to cover all of Texas’ bills, according to the TIA analysis – as of last fall. This number is expected to increase significantly after several million people lost their jobs this year, the oil industry tanked to record lows initially due to the Russian-Saudi oil war, and the state has yet to reopen fully after initially shutting down in March.

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