Texpatriate endorses for Comptroller

 

The Comptroller of Public Accounts has an inquisitorial quality about it. While reforms throughout the 1980s and the 1990s gradually gave the office most of the powers of the former State Treasurer position, its two original duties are still arguably the most important. The Comptroller is charged within collecting the taxes of the State of Texas, namely the sales tax and excise taxes. The post also comes up with a biennial revenue estimate, which the Comptroller relays to the State Legislature, and the legislature is compelled to use when writing their budget.

Without a doubt, the current officeholder of this position, Susan Combs, has failed in both respects. Tax revenue has been down around the state considering our population. This stands in stark contrast to some of the bombastic Democrats, namely Bob Bullock, who have held this position in the past. Bullock infamously organized high-profile raids to tax evaders, and cleaned up inefficiencies and corruptions to ensure that coffers remained filled. His two successors, John Sharp and Carole Keeton Strayhorn, one a Democrat and one a Republican, also ensured that revenue forecasts were accurate.

This is greatly important, because an incompetent or malevolent Comptroller could fudge the numbers and wreak havoc on the state. That is precisely what happened in 2011 when Combs negligently low-balled the revenues, prompting enormously painful austerity cuts, especially to education, that just weren’t necessary.

Democratic candidate Mike Collier, a longtime CPA who calls himself “the watchdog,” pledges to fight exactly this type of ineptitude. Previously an apolitical person, Collier jumped into the race after witnessing the deleterious effects caused by Combs’ dereliction of her responsibilities. He wants to run the office better, not as a stepping stone to higher office but as an actual place of accounting and reasonable forecast.

In our opinion, the office of Comptroller should not be elected to begin with. And while lifelong politicians such as Bullock did great things with the post, the era of the goodhearted statesman is simply a thing of the past in the same respect as black-and-white televisions and horse drawn carriages.

The Republican candidate, State Senator Glenn Hegar (R-Harris County), is not an accountant or in any way well-versed in the financial sector. He is a farmer, and his claim to the fame in the legislature was authoring the omnibus anti-abortion bill that Wendy Davis filibustered. He offers no specifics as to how to improve upon the office form Combs and his campaign has consisted of little more than right-wing sound bites heralding his support from anti-abortion rights and anti-LGBT interest groups.

Hegar, in one of the few issues pertaining to the office he is actually running for, advocating lessening property taxes. This is all good and fun, as few Texans besides masochists in Austin would actually be comfortable with their property tax bill, but Hegar’s proposed alternative is much, much worse. He wishes to replace the property tax with a new statewide sales tax that climbs more than 20 cents on the dollar. This stupid — and there just isn’t a better word for it — regressive tax would greatly hurt the poorest among us. It would result in an effective tax hike for a majority of the population.

Like many of this year’s elections, the choice in November is crystal clear. Collier is qualified, would do the job capably and does not want to raise your taxes. Hegar is not qualified, would not do the job capably and wants to raise your taxes. Don’t raise taxes, vote Democrat.

Accordingly, this board endorses Mike Collier for Comptroller of Public Accounts.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz & Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey of Boston, Luis Fayad of College Station and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represent a majority opinion of the voting board.

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In re Glenn Hegar

In what was probably the most egregious example of the Tribune poll’s unreliability, the Comptroller Republican primary turned out to be anything but predictable. The Tribune had predicted Debra Medina, the Tea Party firebrand, would finish in the plurality, with State Senator Glenn Hegar and State Representative Harvey Hilderbran fighting it out for second place. Ultimately, the results showed Hegar with a convincing lead, Hilderbran squarely in second place and Medina in a distant third place. Former State Representative Raul Torres also ran but finished last. Throughout election night and the succeeding days, Hegar hovered around 50%, leaving the prospect of a runoff between him and Hilderbran up in the air. Finally, Hilderbran withdrew from the campaign, leaving Hegar as the nominee by default.

Hegar will now face Mike Collier, a Democrat, in the general election. Collier has been especially hard on Hegar for two reasons. First, Hegar has previously received the endorsement of the incumbent, Susan Combs, who has been especially notorious for underestimating revenue, thus leading to overly painful austerity measures. Second, Hegar has been especially reliant on conservative organizations with admittedly little to do with the office of the Comptroller. As Collier has been saying, the office should be about “accounting, not abortion.”

Click here to see the obligatory map!

In re Sid Miller

The Texas Agriculture Commissioner is a powerful, Statewide elected position that traces its roots back over 100 years ago. During the era of Democratic dominance, the office was occupied by larger-than-life men who became national figures. There was James McDonald, a bitterly conservative Democrat who fought with Franklin Roosevelt over crop subsidies. He served for twenty years until a 25 year old man named John White defeated him and held the office himself for twenty-six years. White, a liberal, would later go on to serve as President Carter’s deputy Secretary of Agriculture as well as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Then, of course, there was Jim Hightower, a folk hero of the left who held the office for close to a decade.

Since Republicans first took over the office, however, it has been career politicians most prevalent in this post. Rick Perry, then a State Representative, unseated Hightower in 1990. He was succeeded in 1998 by Susan Combs, the incumbent Comptroller, who was –in turn– succeeded by Todd Staples in 2006, the incumbent.

In the race to succeed Staples, it is the career politicians who finished best. Sid Miller and Tommy Merritt, two fiercely conservative former State Representatives, finished first and second, respectively. They will therefore advance into a runoff election in May. Two other conservative activists, Joe Cotten and Eric Opiela, also finished strong, while J Allen Carnes, the Mayor of Uvalde and a self-described pragmatist, finished dead last.

Click here to view the map and more analysis!

Texpatriate endorses in Comptroller primary

The Texas Comptroller is an incredibly unique position, one without a readily identifiable counterpart at the local or national level. At first glance, one might think the job predominantly revolves around managing and keeping the State’s money. While the Comptroller may do many of these functions today, they were not and are not the prime duties of the office. Indeed, the office of State Treasurer had originally completed these tasks. The prime responsibility of the Comptroller of Public Accounts is to forecast revenue for the upcoming biennium, which in turn binds the Legislature as to how much money it may appropriate throughout its session. These estimates are important, because they can make or break just how painful the austerity in any particular year will be. For example, the incumbent Comptroller, Susan Combs, greatly underestimated revenue a few years ago –for ideological reasons– leading to excessive cuts.

This board has not been impressed by Combs’ tumultuous tenure in office. Putting ideology above the welfare of the State has led to disastrous results, most notably the painful cuts to Education in the 2011 session. Accordingly, we would be remiss to continue with business as usual by supporting her handpicked choice as successor, State Senator Glenn Hegar. Rather than talking about accounting, Hegar has seemed very busy on the campaign trail touting his stance on abortion. Rather than aspiring to be a protector of the State’s financial integrity, Hegar appears content to protect the integrity of the 2nd Amendment. We fail to see how either has anything to do with the office of Comptroller.

Click here to read more!

Lazy, Lazy, Lazy

When it comes to last minute Statewide filings, there were few big surprises besides Steve Stockman going up against John Cornyn, and Justice Larry Meyers becoming a Democrat, both of which I have previously covered. Indeed, the news I will focus on is the continued laziness and complacency of the Democrats, which in and of itself is not especially surprising. But more on that about two paragraphs down.

For the non-Judicial posts, Democrats were responsible enough this go-around to recruit candidates for all of the openings for the first time in six years (in 2010, we allowed Susan Combs to be re-elected without contest, and in 2012, we allowed Barry Smitherman to do the same). Except for the Agriculture Commissioner, Railroad Commissioner and Governor (Wendy Davis faces token opposition), all the other Democrats stood alone in their primaries. The obvious major exception is for the US Senate seat, which will feature three major candidates, David Alameel, Michael Fjetland and Maxey Scherr.

For the Judicial positions, a few qualified candidates also ran. Bill Moody, an El Paso District Judge who has previously run for the Supreme Court, will seek the Chief Justice’s office. The aforementioned Larry Meyers, who currently serves as a Justice on the Court of Criminal Appeals, will run for a spot on the Supreme Court. Gina Benavides, the Chief Justice of the 13th Court of Appeals (based in Corpus Christi), will run for yet another spot. Additionally, John Granberg, an attorney out of El Paso, will run for the Court of Criminal Appeals. These four candidates will be extraordinarily competent on the campaign trail and would make fine Supreme Court or Court of Criminal Appeals Justices.

But the Dems left three seats without candidates. Click here to read why that is inexcusable!

Texas given ‘AAA’ rating

The Spring Observer reports that Standard & Poors has upgraded the State of Texas’ bond rating to AAA, the highest category. Texas, like the United States, held the second-highest rank previous of AA+.

Texas’ imperfect credit rating had been the subject of some big disagreements recently. Recently, when Governor Perry’s nationwide tour of offending people began, Jay Nixon (the Governor of Missouri) pointed out that his State was a safer investment.

The news did not garner any mainstream press, but it is a big deal. For the first time in Texas history, Texas is receiving the highest credit rating from all three major credit agencies.

Comptroller Susan Combs then released the following statement:

“I am pleased with the Standard & Poor’s ratings upgrade. When I made presentations to the ratings agencies this summer my message was very clear. Texas is a business-friendly state with a strong job market and a diverse mix of industries. These bond ratings reflect Wall Street’s confidence in the Texas economy, the state’s revenue growth and disciplined cash management and budgeting.”

Governor Rick Perry, meanwhile, sent out the following, brief press release:

“S&P’s decision to raise Texas’ credit rating to AAA is no accident, but further proof that the Texas model of conservative fiscal discipline is a key element of our strong economy, and a stark contrast to the out-of-control spending and rising debt ceilings of Washington, D.C. In Texas, we adhere to the powerful combination of keeping taxes low and government spending in check, ensuring Texas remains the best place in the country to live, work, raise a family and build a business.”

The news is a major event for the State. Holding a perfect bond rating both lowers interest rates for borrowing money, thus alleviating the deficit. Additionally, it encourages more investment, as more individuals find the investment to be one of the safest there is.

Republican or Democrat, Texans should celebrate this news.

Lege update 8/1

There are three words I would have never thought I’d be piecing together. But here we are, three Special Sessions into the summer. Thus far, Transportation funding is the only issue on the call, though Campus Construction & Guns on Campus could still appear. As one may recall from my previous post on the issue, the Senate has already approved SJR1. At press time, the journal has still not been uploaded, so I have absolutely no idea how the vote went down.

Anyways, the Texas Tribune now reports that the House Select Committee on Transportation has taken up SJR1, and purposefully chosen not to move forward with the legislation. The Committee then took up HJR1, which is Joe Pickett’s plan, and passed the measure 6-1 with the lone dissenting vote coming from Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Harris County). Sergio Munoz (D-Hidalgo County), the only other Democrat on the committee, voted yes, as did all four Republicans.

There are a few different circumstances, however. First, Comptroller Susan Combs announced that Oil & Gas taxes would come into the coffers at levels $900 Million higher than previously expected. Second, there were some changes to Pickett’s proposals. From the Tribune:

Pickett added a provision to the plan that would require the Texas Department of Transportation to find $100 million in “efficiencies” over the 2014-15 biennium and put that money toward paying the agency’s multibillion-dollar debt. Paying off that much debt early would save the agency $47 million in debt service payments, Pickett said.

[…]

The other key difference in Pickett’s new proposal would be in the way the Legislature could ensure that the plan wouldn’t drain the Rainy Day Fund’s balance beyond a level with which state leaders are comfortable. A previous version required the Legislative Budget Board to periodically set a minimum balance, or floor, for the Rainy Day Fund below which tax revenue could not be diverted to transportation. Pickett switched out the LBB with a select joint committee of five House members and five senators.

Also, at the start of each legislative session, lawmakers would have the opportunity to file bills proposing that the floor selected by the committee be adjusted, Pickett said. Such a bill would need to pass both chambers within the first 60 days of the session to be enacted. 

This bill, most likely, will be approved by the full House. At that point, HJR1 and SJR1 would have to be battled-out in Conference Committee, just like last time. It is unclear what the end game here is.

In other news, the Texas Tribune reported that Sen. Ken Paxton (R-Collin County) officially announced his candidacy for Attorney General. Paxton will be facing off against Rep. Dan Branch and Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman in the GOP primary. It will be quite the contest. Paxton, by the way, has a two-year term, so if he loses the primary, he will be unemployed.