"Debt has almost doubled in Austin under Gov. Perry."

Bill White on Thursday, March 4th, 2010 in a speech

White says Texas debt has doubled under Perry

Race for governor, Round 2.

Gov. Rick Perry bested U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and underdog Debra Medina in the Republican primary while former Houston Mayor Bill White walloped businessman Farouk Shami for the Democratic nomination.

Celebrating separately Tuesday night, both candidates rallied their respective supporters.

For Perry, that meant warning Washington to "stop messing with Texas," a tenet of his primary campaign. White, meanwhile, started to niggle his new opponent — suggesting Perry and his consultants point to national debt to distract voters from Texas' record.

"Debt has almost doubled in Austin under Gov. Perry," White said. "They think you will not notice this!"

Game on.

Is White right?

We checked with the Texas Bond Review Board, which oversees the state's issuance of most bonds used to fund numerous activities, from helping local governments with economic development to building prisons to making housing loans to veterans. According to the board's annual reports, Texas had $34.08 billion in outstanding bonds and notes as of Aug. 31 — the end of the 2009 fiscal year.

Perry took office Dec. 21, 2000 — nearly five months into fiscal year 2001. At the end of that year, Texas had $13.7 billion in outstanding bonds and notes. Adjusting for inflation, that would have equaled $16.6 billion in 2009.

But there's a subset of state debt that hasn't surged, Perry's campaign pointed out — currently $3.07 billion to support parks and for construction of state facilities, among other activities. That debt has decreased by about 6 percent since 2001.

Then there's debt to be repaid with program revenue. For example, interest on student loans is used to repay the bond that funded it without the state having to commit general revenue. That "self-supporting" debt has increased by 173 percent since 2001.

Regardless, Dale Craymer, president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, noted that lots of things have probably doubled since Perry became governor. After all, he's held the office for nearly a decade.

Eva DeLuna Castro, a senior budget analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, also said it'd be a stretch to say Perry was solely responsible for all those debt decisions.

"Voters do that, and the Legislature," she said. "So we're all responsible."

Perry is one of four members on the Bond Review Board, which ultimately approves most state debt transactions. And over the years, we found, he was a leading advocate for expanding state debts to pay for transportation projects and to combat cancer.

It turns out that transportation is responsible for most of the added debt load under Perry, increasing from basically nothing in 2000 to $11.8 billion outstanding as of Aug. 31 2009. That's because before 2001, the Texas Department of Transportation lacked the authority to borrow money to pay for road projects. Voters gave it that power in 2001 when they approved a constitutional amendment that Perry supported.

Addressing transportation in his 2001 state of the state speech, Perry said, "I would like for both chambers to pass a bonding program to jump-start construction across our state."

In 2007, voters also passed a constitutional amendment to create and fund the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas with $3 billion in bonds over 10 years, starting in January 2010. Perry had championed the cause with cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong and others.

Where does that leave us?

It's clear the amount of state debt has more than doubled since Perry became governor.

We rate White's statement as True.