Editorial note: This is the fourth in our series of electronic interviews with candidates for Statewide and Harris County offices. We have sent questionnaires to every candidate on the ballot, given we could find a working email address. We have printed their answers verbatim as we receive them. If you are or work for such a candidate, and we did not send a questionnaire, please contact us <email@example.com>.
Mike Collier, Democratic candidate for Comptroller of Public Accounts
Texpatriate: What is your name?
MC: Mike Collier
T: What office are you seeking?
MC: Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL offices you have previously held, and for what years you held them.
MC: I have never run for or held political office.
T: What is your political party?
MC: Democratic Party
T: What are your thoughts on the Texas Performance Review program once used by this office?
MC: Under Comptrollers Bob Bullock, John Sharp, and Carol McClelland the Comptroller ran Performance Reviews, but that function was moved by the Legislature to the Legislative Budget Board.
I plan to ask the Legislature to restore the function to the Comptroller’s office and change the name to The Texas Accountability Team.
This is much more than a symbolic gesture or bureaucratic maneuver. Accountability is on every Texan’s mind, and Texans understand that asking the Legislature to take charge of accountability is like asking the fox to guard the hen house.
In business, the best-run companies have teams of financial auditors and investigators who roam the company and root out fraud and abuse. They do not report to the line-executives who spend the company’s money; their job is to hold line-executives accountable to shareholders. The same principle should be applied in Texas.
T: What role do you think the Comptroller of Public Accounts should have with regard to wading in on social issues, such as abortion or gun control?
MC: None. As Comptroller, I will provide financial leadership. While I do not intend to deal falsely with any issue, and I am on record as to my personal point of view, abortion, guns, and other social issue politics have no place in the office of our states top accountant.
T: What do you think the role of the Comptroller of Public Accounts should be?
MC: The agency is meant to be the financial watchdog for all taxpayers. Texas is a $100 billion per year operation with over 300,000 employees all-in. The Comptroller plays a vital role in overseeing the state’s “back office” to ensure taxpayer money is protected and managed responsibly. The Comptroller is also the first line of defense to make sure taxes are fair and everyone’s interests are considered in developing lax law. It’s also the Comptroller’s job to be the state’s Chief Financial Officer and to work with the Legislature to make sure Texans are planning for our financial future.
T: What is one thing that you would continue over from Comptroller Susan Combs’ administration? What is one thing you would not or change?
MC: Susan Combs started us down a path that emphasized transparency. I applaud her for this and I intend to take it to an entirely new level. Fact is, her attempt to increase transparency was a good start, but we have much work to do in making sure our accounting and reporting systems deliver to all Texans a simple, readable, and timely discussion of the financial issues we face.
T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?”
MC: Who would you hire to count your money, an accountant or a politician?
I am putting my career as a CPA aside to run for this office because I am frustrated with the lack of honest, skilled, transparent financial leadership in today’s political arena. My promise is to take politics out of the Comptroller’s office and bring competence in. I have offered a detailed, comprehensive reform agenda that will restore the Comptroller’s Office – http://www.collierfortexas.com/reform.
Glenn Hegar hasn’t offered a reform agenda. He has hardly even discussed the Comptroller role after more than a year of campaigning. He doesn’t appear to understand or care about reforming tax administration, and he opposes Performance Reviews in the Comptroller’s office which, during the John Sharp era, produced billions in savings. Glenn Hegar is unqualified for the job. He doesn’t even appear to be interested in the job. He appears to be interested in only one thing: Glenn Hegar’s political career.
T: What are the three most important issues to you, and what is at least one thing you have done to address each of them?
MC: Reform Revenue Forecasting – “Get the numbers right”
Texas is an enormously prosperous state, yet we consistently under-fund education and infrastructure. Texans are very dissatisfied with the state of our public education system, our transportation and water infrastructure. They are given to believe we are doing our best, but in fact we are not doing our best.
Fundamental reform in on our revenue accounting and reporting systems, with quarterly updates and a simple, readable letter to Texans each quarter telling them how much money we have, will change the game dramatically. For example, the $2.6 billion surplus Susan Combs forecast at the end of the current biennium may be off by as much as $5 billion. And nobody is talking about this. Yet we hear our leaders insist that we should cut public education at all levels.
Once we get the numbers right, Texans will see that we can do so much more in terms of investing in education and infrastructure without raising taxes.
Reform Tax Administration
In addition to technical reforms that will ease the burden of complying with tax law (see my website), as Comptroller I will energetically make sure that everyone who owes taxes under the law pays them. No exceptions for major campaign contributors. I call this closing the tax gap. I also call it going after the bad guys. If the law says a tax is due, I’m going to collect it, period. And as someone who comes from the big company accounting world, I will have the skill and tenacity to make sure this is done right.
I will also work very hard to fix our broken property tax system. The Comptroller can work on some aspects of property tax reform directly through the Property Tax Assistance Division (i.e., improving methods and practices to ensure appraisals are fair and accurate in the first instance), but the Comptroller must work indirectly (by providing technical input and forceful leadership) on matters that can only be addressed by the Legislature and local officials. It’s this energetic, determined leadership that’s missing in Texas right now, and it’s why so many Texans feel helpless and frustrated with a property tax system that seems so unfair.
Bring Back the Texas Performance Review
Our state government is a decentralized operation, which is perhaps a very good thing. But nowhere is there a systematic, objective approach to identifying and stopping waste and abuse.
Comptroller Bob Bullock recognized the need for an independent audit or Texas government agencies financial performance, and he created The Texas Performance Reviews. Comptroller John Sharp implemented the Reviews with great skill and effect, finding billions in savings. However, the Legislature took the Review away from the Comptroller and gave them to the Legislative Budget Board which makes no sense. Why would you give the Legislature, who spends our money, the job of deciding if our money is being spent wisely? It must be done by an independent agency, and therefore I am going to fight to bring them back to the Comptroller Office where, as someone who has made a career out of this kind of work, we can do some real good.
How can we ask Texans to part with their hard earned money, unless at the same time we can assure them that their money is not being wasted or abused? That’s why I am going to change the name to the Texas Accountability Team, and with the full support of the Legislature, conduct independent Accountability Audits.