BREAKING THE BANK

Houston earns dismal grade for financial health, new report says

Houston earns dismal grade for financial health, new report says

Houston skyline
Houston earned a D grade in a recent report detailing financial health. Photo courtesy of Lexus, On the Road with Chris Shepherd

Compared to many of Texas' big cities, Houston is hardly making the grade fiscally. 

That’s according to a recent report from nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank Truth in Accounting. Houston earns a D grade for its financial health in Truth in Accounting's new Financial State of the Cites 2021 report, a comprehensive analysis of the fiscal health of the top 75 most populated cities in the U.S.

Based on fiscal year 2019, and therefore reflecting a pre-pandemic economy, the report examines a variety of financial factors to determine each city’s “taxpayer burden” or “taxpayer surplus” to determine cities’ rankings and grades.

As for the grading, the report may assign a municipal government a C grade if it comes close to meeting its balanced-budget requirement, which is reflected by a small taxpayer burden. An A or B grade means governments have met their balanced-budget requirements and have a taxpayer surplus.

Meanwhile, governments receiving D (Houston) and F grades have not balanced their budgets and have significant taxpayer burdens, according to the report.

Houston had $5.65 billion available to pay $13.16 billion worth of bills. What does that mean to individuals? “Bottom line: Houston would need $11,600 from each of its taxpayers to pay all of its bills, so it has received a 'D' for its finances,” the report nots. “According to Truth in Accounting’s grading scale, any government with a Taxpayer Burden between $5,000 D and $20,000 receives a 'D.'”

Elsewhere in Texas, San Antonio is in the best financial shape out all of Texas' four biggest metros, earning a C and ranking 34 out of 75 cities. The report notes that San Antonio entered the pandemic in “mediocre fiscal health,” despite the city’s debt load of $1.5 billion and a taxpayer burden of $3,500. The report says not only is Austin, scoring a D, is not making the grade fiscally and may be even worse off post-pandemic. 

Like Houston and Austin, a slew of other Texas cities earned a D grade in the report, including Dallas (ranked No. 61 out of 75 cities), Fort Worth (No. 54), and El Paso (No. 42).  

Arlington (No. 16), with a taxpayer burden of only $200, received a financial grade of C, as did Corpus Christi (No. 19), which had a taxpayer burden of $1,100. The top-ranking Texas city in the report is the Dallas suburb of Plano (No. 9), which received a B grade, reflective of its $2,000 taxpayer surplus. 

Despite the distressing news, the Texas metros are not alone in receiving less-than-stellar fiscal grades. In fact, most cities analyzed in the report did not have enough money to pay all their bills. Based on Truth in Accounting’s grading methodology, no cities received an A grade, 13 received a B grade, 28 received Cs, 28 received Ds, and six cities received failing grades. 

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