Texas’ local governments are awash in red ink. In fiscal year 2017, the principal amount owed by cities, counties, school districts,and special districts totaled $216.6 billion. That’s enough govern-ment debt to send a bill to every man, woman, and child in Texas for $7,650 or saddle a family of four with $30,600. Of course, this ocean of red ink is even greater when interest is taken into account. Texas’ total local debt burden—or the amount required to fully repay all of the principal and interest owed—stood at more than $338 billion in fiscal year 2017. On a per capita basis, that’s enough of an obligation to charge every Texan $12,000 or cost a family of four $48,000.
Two types of governmental entities are most responsible for Texas’ debt load—school districts and cities. According to the Bond Review Board, school district debt totaled $126.6 billion or $23,624 owed per student, while city governments owed a combined $106.8 billion or $9,766 per household. Together, school district and city debt accounts for almost 70% of the overall total.