With No Vote, Taxpayers Stuck With Tab on BondsSurprised local taxpayers from Stockton, Calif., to Scranton, Pa., are finding themselves obligated for parking garages, hockey arenas and other enterprises that can no longer pay their debts.Officials have signed them up unknowingly to backstop the bonds of independent authorities, the special bodies of government that run projects like toll roads and power plants.The practice, meant to save governments money, has been gaining popularity without attracting much notice, and is creating problems for a small but growing number of cities.Data from Thomson Reuters suggests that local taxpayers are backing so-called enterprise debt at five times the rate they did 10 years ago. The resulting municipal bonds are sometimes called “double barreled,” because they are backed by both the future revenue of a project and some sort of taxpayer backstop. The exact wording and mechanics can vary.With many cities now preoccupied with other crushing costs — pension obligations, retiree health care, accumulated unpaid bills — a sudden call to honor a long-forgotten bond guarantee can be a bolt from the blue, precipitating a crisis. The obligations mostly lurk in the dark. State laws requiring voter pre-approval of bonds don’t generally apply to guarantees. Local governments typically don’t include them in their own financial statements or set aside reserves to honor them.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
With No Vote, Taxpayers Stuck With Tab on Bonds
Cities hide the debt from the voters so their brother-in-laws can get the deal to build the parking garage or stadium.