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Who's Running For Texas Comptroller? Also, What the Heck is a Comptroller?

Photo courtesy The Texas Tribune
Comptroller candidates Mike Collier and Glenn Hegar

Early voting starts Monday for the November 4th elections.

But before you head to the polls, KUT wants to make sure you know what you're voting on. Not only on who's running, but on what the office they're running for actually does. To do just that, All Things Considered host Nathan Bernier is going to spend the rest of the week talking with KUT's political reporter Ben Philpott.

Ben: I guess we should start with how the office is pronounced. Some people hit the letters M and P when they say "Comptroller." Others pronounce it like the word "Controller." The state's spelling, Comptroller, comes from the Old English spelling. When American governments were getting set up, they often took the Old English spelling. But what about the pronunciation?

"Now that's the argument, right, is do you pronounce it 'Controller' or 'Comptroller?' And I think, it's just like, if you've ever helped pick a jury in Texas it's called Voir Dire (vuh-DIRE) and if you go up north it's Voir Dire (vwah-DEER-aye). So it's really which side of the Red River you’re on is how you pronounce it," former director of the UT Law School Legislative Lawyering Clinic Huge Brady said. 

So what does the office do? The simple answer: it deals with the state's money.

"The Comptroller is, the best way to say it is, the chief financial officer, pretty much, of the state. Tax collector is one of the major duties of the Comptroller's office. And then also policing that collection. If people are not paying their taxes, they actually have police power," former state representative and budget writer Talmadge Heflin said.

And then there's the role the office plays in spending that money. The Comptroller is constitutionally required to estimate how much money lawmakers have to spend on a state budget. And then once a budget bill is passed, the office must certify that the state will collect enough tax dollars to pay the bill.

Nathan: OK – now let's get into the race for Comptroller. Who's running?

Ben: The top two candidates are Republican State Senator Glenn Hegar and Democrat Mike Collier. Hegar has been in the Legislature since 2003. He's most famous for writing the state's new abortion law in the 2013 special session. It's a point he brought up when trying to make it out of a crowded Republican primary.

Nathan: But the comptroller's office doesn't deal with abortion?

Ben: Right, and if you go on Hegar's website, you won't see much about abortion other than endorsements from anti-abortion groups.

Nathan: What would he push as Comptroller?

Ben: Basically, what you'd hear out of any Comptroller candidate: Cut small business regulations and taxes, focus on customer service and limiting the role of the Comptroller's office, eliminating waste in state spending and increasing transparency. He also took some heat on the campaign trail this spring for a video that showed him talking about eliminating property taxes.

Nathan: But what's wrong with eliminating property taxes?

Ben: Property taxes are very unpopular, especially among Tea Party groups. But shifting property taxes to sales taxes would double or even triple current sales taxes. And that's also an unpopular idea.

Nathan: What about his opponent, Democrat Mike Collier?

Ben: Collier is an accountant. He made partner at Price Waterhouse Coopers in Houston and was also CFO of a Texas oil company. And he's focused his campaign on his experience. He released a new ad this week taking a jab at his opponent's work as a farmer and highlighting his work as an accountant.

Nathan: So does the accountant's plan for the office look very different than what Hegar has laid out?

Ben: Not really, although Collier would say he has the experience needed to put his ideas to work. His plan, like Hegar's, focuses on ending waste and abuse in state spending. He also wants to bring back the Texas Performance Review, which is an audit of state agencies and programs that focuses on wasted spending. Those reviews were removed from the Comptroller's office when lawmakers thought a previous office holder, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, was using them for political gain.

On the campaign trail, Collier likes to highlight mistakes made by the current Comptroller, Susan Combs. That includes the data breach that left the social security numbers of millions of current and former government employees unprotected, and the office's 2011 revenue estimate that ended up being wrong by $11 billion. That estimate, in part, lead to massive education cuts and a $15 billion dollar cut in the state budget.

Voters will have a chance to see how these candidate stack up in a debate on October 29th. It's being hosted by our friends over at Time Warner Cable News.

Ben Philpott is the Managing Editor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @BenPhilpottKUT.
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