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Comptroller Candidates Talk Oversight and Incentives in Debate

via Texas Tribune

The race for Texas Governor has received much of the attention this fall, but last night it was the Comptroller’s race that took center stage.

Republican candidate Glenn Hegar and Democratic candidate Mike Collier met at the debate moderated by Time Warner Cable’s Paul Brown, discussing the state’s incentive policy and the role of the comptroller in the state’s budgeting process.

Put simply, the comptroller is the person who deals with the state's money, similar to a treasurer. 

Democrat, and first time political candidate, Mike Collier has had one main argument in his run for the office: "I'm an accountant, my opponent is a politician." It was an argument he used throughout Wednesday night’s discussion.

“The motivation here is to run for this office to reform it,” Collier said. “To bring best in class accounting and finance principles to an office, I think, has lacked that.”

Republican candidate Glenn Hager held his ground on the policy side, a shift from his GOP primary race that saw him tout his anti-abortion legislation, and showed off his ability to shoot high-powered guns. Hegar said he wants to make sure the Comptroller’s office accurately forecasts how much money the state will bring in. That's one of the office's key roles as state lawmakers start to draft a budget next year.

“I want to put a significant amount of resources back into having better communication with the legislature, with the media and if you see that the revenue estimate is changing of what you gave, you have to be the first one to pull the fire alarm and say, ‘The numbers have changed,’” Hegar said. 

Collier echoed the need to make revenue estimates more exact. He questioned the methods used by current comptroller Susan Combs in a recent estimate, where she predicted economic growth of only 1.9 percent. That's a number Collier says was way off, and would be fixed if the office updated the estimates quarterly.

The two candidates agreed the office should be realigned to focus on a smaller number of core functions. One function Collier would remove: the state’s major events trust fund. The same fund that current comptroller Combs used to help lure F1 Racing to Austin.

“If the controller is making the deals – and the [Comptroller] a watchdog – you ain’t got a watchdog,” Collier said.

Hegar agreed on reducing the office’s scope, but also thought it should beef up its efforts on another front: cyber security.

“We may still have bank robbers that go into the bank in the front door,” Hegar said. “But the way they really come in, is over the wires.”

That change is also a reference to Comptroller Combs. In 2011, her office left the social security numbers of more than 3 million public employees on the Internet, unguarded.

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