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Proposed legislation offers aims for more transparency for bond issue ballot language

Special to the Legal News

Published: May 14, 2013

Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel has collaborated with a Hudson lawmaker to craft a bill designed to increase the transparency of bond issues.

House Bill 118, sponsored by Kristina Roegner, would revise the ballot language requirements for bond proposals.

“It is important for Ohio taxpayers to know exactly what’s in front of them when they’re in the voting booth,” Mandel said.

“This legislation will ensure more transparency for taxpayers and enable them to know the fiscal health of their local government and state government before voting on more debt.”

At a recent press conference at the Ohio Statehouse, Roegner and Mandel highlighted the bill’s provisions.

HB 118 would require that political subdivisions disclose information such as their total outstanding debt and debt service, the per capita obligation of that debt and the total estimated amount of debt and per capita obligation if the bond issue was passed.

In outlining the per capita figures, municipalities would have to use the most recently available population totals from the U.S. Census Bureau.

If HB 118 is signed into law, the financial information would be required on enabling legislation, ballot language and all notices of the bond issuance.

“The amount of debt, which government at all levels continues to increase, has rightfully become a matter of concern for many,” Roegner said in a statement.

“When going to the polls to decide if we, as taxpayers, wish to incur additional debt, we ought to be able to see the big picture, which includes how much debt is currently outstanding and what that means per person.”

Roegner said detailing the additional information is intended to help voters make a more informed decision when casting their vote.

“This is all about transparency,” she said.

In Ohio, Roegner said political subdivisions can seek to issue general obligation bonds, secured by its full faith and credit, to finance permanent improvements.

For a political subdivision to place a bond issue on the ballot under current state law, it must pass legislation that includes the need and purpose of the bond, the date of the vote, the principle amount, date of issuance, estimated interest rate and length of the bond and the necessity of levying a tax to make the payments on the bond.

“The amount of outstanding debt, however, is not currently required to be included,” Roegner said.

According to HB 118, the disclosure would state: “Currently, (name of subdivision)’s outstanding debt totals (amount); the debt service is in the amount of (amount); and the outstanding debt per capita, including debt service, amounts to (amount).”

The statement would go on to say: “The proposed issuance of bonds will result in an additional debt of (amount); estimated debt service in the amount of (amount); and an estimated per capita burden, including debt service, in the amount of (amount).”

Voters would then decide whether they are for or against the proposed bond issue.

In addition to adding the debt disclosure to ballot language, newspaper announcements and proposed legislation, it would have to be published on the board of elections website in the county that the issue is being considered.

“As a watchdog of Ohioans’ hard-earned tax dollars, I am committed to casting sunlight on government spending and debt so that taxpayers know where their money is going,” Mandel said.

HB 118 is co-sponsored by Reps. Lynn Wachtmann, R-Napoleon, John Adams, R-Sidney, Terry Blair, R-Dayton, Ron Hood, R-Ashville, Matt Lynch, R-Chagrin Falls, Andrew Thompson, R-Marietta, Louis Terhar, R-Cincinnati, and Mike Duffey, R-Worthington.

The bill has been referred to the House State and Local Government committee.

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