While Mexico has a very low debt-to-GDP ratio that is slightly above forty percent, its state and municipal portion hovers around 2.5% (IMF, World Economic Outlook Databases, 2012). Subnational governments have consistently been accused of taking on too much debt, allowing irresponsible repayment plans and consenting to outright political corruption. Especially since 2001, the first full year since the country revised its laws governing subnational borrowing rights, Mexico has experienced a significant rise in the indebtedness of its states and municipalities. During the past decade, total subnational debt went from $990 pesos per capita in 2001 to $3,450 pesos per capita in 2011 (ASF 2011). Although Mexico’s overall subnational debt is still at reasonable levels compared to other countries, this nation’s high vertical fiscal imbalances and de facto soft subnational budget constraints could continue to fuel observed trends unless national legislation governing the rights and responsibilities of subnational governments are made. One can argue that the pace of increasing debt has been constant, but it accelerated during the 2009 economic crisis when National GDP decreased substantially (around -6%). Actual proposals to harmonizing accounting standards among state and local governments, increase transparency and improve reporting requirements by the Mexican Ministry of Finance (Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público, SHCP) are only a few steps towards improving fiscal policy at the local level. Reviewing policies to understand debt sources and improving bankruptcy laws to cope with moral hazard issues will help to maintain strong sustainable fiscal balances into the future.

This policy paper argues that alternative revenue sources are necessary for economic growth at the local level, but continued soft budget constraints and lax regulatory environments may also put Mexico’s future into jeopardy. Lessons learned from the United States’ state and municipal financing could provide valuable policy options for Mexico--thus, the paper provides policy recommendations for future public financial management considerations.