By Jonathan House and Sara Schaefer MunozOf THE WALL STREET JOURNALMADRID (Dow Jones)--Weekend elections that threaten to drive Spain's ruling Socialist party from power in several regions and cities also promise a potentially nasty surprise: the revelation of piles of undisclosed debt in local governments that could undercut the country's drive to avoid an international bailout.Five months ago, a government change in Spain's Catalonia region revealed a budget deficit more than twice as big as previously reported. Now, a growing chorus of economists, local politicians and business leaders say that new governments are likely to discover, as Catalonia did, piles of "hidden debt" owed to health clinics and other suppliers.
Economists, analysts and anecdotal reports from companies that supply local governments suggest there is widespread, unrecorded debt among once-free-spending local governments. Some companies are complaining that fiscally frail administrations are pressuring them to do business off the books and not immediately bill for goods and services, said Fernando Eguidazu, vice president of the Circulo de Empresarios business lobby group in Madrid.
Such bills could add tens of billions of euros to the official debt figures reported by local and regional governments. If such skeletons come out of the closet in coming weeks, Spain's cost of funding could continue to rise--throwing the country back into the limelight after it has struggled to demonstrate it doesn't need to be bailed out like Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
Read more: WSJ: Spain Vote Threatens to Uncover Debt As Socialists Risk Losing Key Areas - WSJ.com