Texas Comptroller

Todd Wiseman & Stuart Seeger/Texas Tribune

Agenda Texas is KUT's weekly report on the Texas Legislative session. Each week we'll take a deeper look into the policies being considered and explain what they could mean for you and your life. From transportation to education to the environment and everything in between.

Two weeks down in the 84th Texas Legislature. This one was filled with the pomp of Inauguration Day, and the curious circumstance of the Texas Senate's rules for bringing up a bill. But today's Agenda Texas talks about the state budget.

Out of the billions and billions spent, there are two numbers to focus on to help understand it all.

Hegar: 'Moderate Expansion' of Economy is Expected

Jan 12, 2015
Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune

From the Texas Tribune:

Amid concerns that tumbling oil prices could push the Texas economy into a recession, Comptroller Glenn Hegar offered a cautiously optimistic tone on the future of the Texas economy Monday, announcing that lawmakers will have $113 billion to haggle over in crafting its next two-year budget.

“Our projections are based on expectations of a moderate expansion in the Texas economy and reflect uncertainties in oil prices and the possibilities of a slowing global economy,” Hegar said.

The biennial revenue estimate sets a limit on the state’s general fund, the portion of the budget that lawmakers have the most control over. The general fund typically makes up nearly half of the state’s total budget.

via Texas Tribune

The Texas Comptroller has the very important job of telling lawmakers how much money they have to spend in each 2-year budget. Getting that answer wrong can lead to millions or billions in unnecessary budget cuts.

The top two candidates running this year both say they'll be the person to make the office better.

Photo courtesy The Texas Tribune

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?

Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune

Comptroller Susan Combs announced Wednesday that she will not seek re-election and that she is retiring from public office at the end of her term in 2015. Combs, who had been positioning herself to run for lieutenant governor, will not run for that post or other elective office. 

"It is with a deep sense of gratitude for the past, coupled with excitement for the future, that I announce today I will not be seeking elective office in 2014," Combs said in a statement, adding that she would keep working on several policy priorities, but that she wanted to spend more time on her West Texas ranch. "I want to make my intentions clear as soon as possible for prospective statewide candidates."

courtesy flickr.com/hubgoat

If you’re thinking of buying an appliance anytime soon, you might want to circle Memorial Day weekend on your calendar. The state’s annual Energy Star sales tax holiday runs May 25- 27.

Dub Taylor with the State Energy Conservation Office says they want to encourage people with the idea that after you save on sales tax, you’ll also save on your electric bill.

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune and Pedro Moura Pinheiro, Texas Tribune

With the drought getting worse by the day, a Texas mayor is turning to a higher power.

He’s asking people to pray for rain.

Odessa Mayor David Turner is calling on community and church leaders to make this Sunday, April 14th, a day of prayer for rainfall.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

The Texas Comptroller has paid the organizers of Austin’s Formula 1 race more than $29 million from the state’s Major Events Trust Fund.

The trust fund uses tax revenues generated by an event to cover expenses related to the event.

“We pay them back $29.3 million because we’re saying, basically, that there’s been an incremental tax increase of $29.3 million so we’re going to let you have that money to pay you back for expenses that you had bringing the event here," Lauren Willis, director of communications for the Texas Comptroller, says.

Pew Research Center/2010 ACS

The Clean Air Force of Central Texas is forecasting another ozone day. The group is predicting an "unhealthy" or Orange Level day. Here is a roundup of some stories making news this morning:

Austin Home to Country's 20th Largest Metropolitan Hispanic Population

A new report by the Pew Research Center shows the nation's Hispanic population is fairly concentrated. The report analyzed census data from the 2010 American Community Survey. It found "nearly half (45 percent) of the nation’s Hispanic population lives in just 10 metropolitan areas."

Four Texas metropolitans are home to some of the nation's largest Hispanic populations. Houston ranks #2, Dallas-Fort Worth is #6, San Antonio ranks #9 and Austin comes in at #20.

According to the ACS data, Austin has a Hispanic population of 502,000, which makes up 31 percent of the city's total population. Hispanics make up an even larger portion of Austin's younger population. Among Austinites under 18 years old, 42.3 percent are Hispanic. More than a quarter (28.9 percent) of Austin's Hispanic population were born outside of the United States.

Of the 60 metropolitan areas with the largest Hispanic populations, two areas have Hispanic populations that make up more than 90 percent of residents: Laredo (#36 on the list) is 96 percent Hispanic, McAllen (#13) is 91 percent Hispanic.

Delay in Dead Voter Purge

State District Judge Tom Sulak has temporarily prevented Texas from ordering counties to purge possibly dead voters from their registration rolls.

In a sneak peek of the pending clash between state and local governments to come during the next legislative session, Texas State Comptroller Susan Combs is urging people to challenge local taxing authorities over levies that she says are rising faster than inflation.  

Combs' office issued a report today titled "Your Money and The Taxing Facts."  Texans are encouraged to "get involved" by "attending hearings and meetings of entities that affect you."

Photo courtesy of Marsha Miller for the University of Texas

UT Announces New Dean of Law School

Ward Farnsworth, an associate dean at Boston University’s Law School, will replace Interim Dean Stefanie Lindquist as leader of the law school on June 1.

Before joining Boston University, Farnsworth clerked for Richard Posner on the 7th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Anthony Kennedy on the U. S. Supreme Court.

Farnsworth say his first order of business is "learning from the faculty, the alumni and the rest of the community down there about their views and abilities, and how we can use them to advance the mission of the school," reports the Alcade.

After talks between online retailer Amazon.com and the state over paying sales taxes collapsed last year, the parties have reached an agreement.

The Office of the State Comptroller and Amazon stated today that beginning in July, Amazon – which had a distribution center in Irving, Texas – will begin paying state sales tax.

Amazon also announced it will “create at least 2,500 jobs and make at least $200 million in capital investments” in Texas, over the next four years.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/jcolman

The revelation that a leading credit card payment processor had some 1.5 million card numbers breached has put Texas consumers on alert.

Details are scarce about who has been affected at this point, but the latest potential for identity theft may raise a collective groan in Texas. Just a year ago, the State Comptroller’s office revealed it had left the Social Security information of 3.5 million state workers online, on an unsecured webpage.

The Comptroller’s Office offered those affected one year of free credit monitoring. But now that that period is drawing to a close.

Image by Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

A 12-page report released Wednesday by the Texas comptroller's office offers a wide-ranging look at the effects of the record drought that is still gripping Texas.

The report, "The Impact of the 2011 Drought and Beyond," contains few new figures for drought losses but offers graphics that depict the breadth of the problem, which hurt crops, threatens electricity production and forced 55 communities to ban outdoor watering.

"Texas is prone to cycles of drought which makes it important for residents, businesses, and state and local governments to manage water use," Comptroller Susan Combs said in a prepared statement. "Every Texan has a stake in water issues the state faces.”

Despite recent rains, 95 percent of the state remains in drought.

Erika Aguilar for KUT News

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs paid Anthony Graves $1.45 million today, to compensate for his 18 years of wrongful imprisonment. Graves was originally convicted of the 1992 killing a 45-year-old grandmother and five children. He served 12 years of his sentence on death row.

Photo by Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

A Travis County judge has ruled that Texas Comptroller Susan Combs must submit to a three-hour deposition to answer questions related to the largest data leak in Texas history. Combs issued a statement this afternoon saying she will appeal.

The comptroller revealed in April that the personal information of 3.5 million current and former state employees was stored on a publicly accessible computer server for about a year.

Photo Courtesy The Texas Tribune

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs gave the state's couches a good search and has come up with an extra $1.2 billion to spend in the next budget biennium.

The increase in funds available for the 2012-2013 budget was based on what her office considers is a strengthening economy. That increase will also send an extra $300 million to the state's so called Rainy Day fund.

Photo by B. Rosen http://www.flickr.com/photos/rosengrant/

If your personal data was among the 3.5 million records leaked by the Texas Comptroller, you should have received a letter in the mail by now explaining how to set up free 90-day credit monitoring. What that letter didn't explain, however, was the subsequent decision by the comptroller to use her own campaign funds to pay for you to receive an entire year of credit monitoring and identity restoration services.

Image Courtesy of opensource.com http://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/4638981545/

After state and federal investigations started over the State Comptroller's office's exposure of personal information for over 3.5 million people, now an outside group is joining in.  Two lawyers of the Texas Civil Rights Project are asking a Travis County court to give them permission to investigate the security lapse.

In response to the legal actions taken by the Texas Civil Rights Project, Combs emailed her response to KUT via her spokesperson.

Photo by pobre.ch http://www.flickr.com/photos/npobre/

Social security numbers, names, mailing addresses and other information of 3.5 million Texans were disclosed on a state computer server that was accessible to the public for about a year.  Comptroller Susan Combs' office issued this apology and explanation.