Austin American-Statesman: We recommend Harvey Hilderbran in GOP race for comptroller

February 20, 2014

From the Austin American-Statesman:

By Editorial Board

Of Susan Combs, the four candidates running in the Republican primary to replace her as Texas comptroller generally agree: She has made mistakes.

Combs’ egregiously inaccurate revenue forecast in 2011 contributed to an unnecessary $5.4 billion cut to public education, and her office left the personal data of 3.5 million Texans exposed online for about a year. But the race to replace Combs, who is retiring from politics, is not about the past eight years but the next four. And we think state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran is the Republican best prepared to be an effective comptroller and restore the office’s reputation for accuracy and effectiveness.

Competing against Hilderbran to succeed Combs as the state’s chief financial officer and treasurer are state Sen. Glenn Hegar of Katy, tea party favorite Debra Medina of Wharton and former state Rep. Raul Torres of Corpus Christi.

The Texas comptroller of public accounts is responsible for collecting state taxes and issuing the revenue estimates that lawmakers use to craft the state’s two-year budgets during legislative sessions held every other year. The comptroller also certifies that each budget passed by the Legislature is balanced.

Hilderbran, 54, has represented Kerrville in the Texas House since 1989. He was chairman of the all-important House Ways and Means Committee during the 2011 and 2013 sessions, which made him a key player on the budget and taxes and put him in position to closely observe the comptroller’s office. His campaign is swimming in plans for making the office run more efficiently and for increasing the accuracy of its revenue projections.

The central feature of Hilderbran’s campaign is a 10-point “performance pledge” that includes promises to improve customer service, conduct reviews of state agencies to recommend to legislators ways to identify savings, and protect Texans’ personal information. He also promises to continue and expand the move toward transparency begun by Combs (Hilderbran and the other candidates give Combs credit for promoting open government).

In addition, Hilderbran’s performance pledge includes a taxpayer bill of rights that he says will strengthen the position of citizens who find themselves in a tax dispute with the state. Hilderbran says he not only will protect taxpayers as comptroller but also will try to persuade legislators to make his taxpayer bill of rights part of the Texas Constitution.

Hilderbran complains with the best of his Republican colleagues about the federal government and its encroachment on state sovereignty, and GOP primary voters should consider his conservative credentials solid. But Hilderbran understands clearly that comptroller should not be a partisan policymaking position, but one focused on performance, not politics.

Hilderbran’s close rival is Hegar, 43. A member of the Texas House from 2003 to 2007 and a state senator since 2007, Hegar has served on the House Appropriations Committee and Senate Finance Committee, and chaired the Senate Subcommittee on Fiscal Matters during the 2013 session. He has relevant experience with revenue and spending legislation.

Last session, Hegar was the author of Senate Bill 5, the anti-abortion bill that Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis filibustered in June. Hegar promotes himself as the conservative’s conservative in the comptroller’s race. Thus he spends time focusing on issues — gun rights, for example — that have little to do with the office for which he is campaigning.

Medina, 51, ran for governor in the 2010 Republican primary against Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and surprised everyone by winning almost 19 percent of the vote. Her political convictions — quickly summarized as tea party — are deeply held and sincere, but her discussion of the comptroller’s job tends to drift toward policy. She wants, for example, to replace the state’s current tax system with a consumption tax. Whatever the merits of this idea, it is a legislative pursuit that prompts one to wonder why Medina’s not running again for governor or for a seat in the Legislature.

Torres, 59, is a former one-term state representative from Corpus Christi whose main credential is he’s a certified public accountant. He wants to apply Lean Six Sigma principles to the comptroller’s office, which is managerial-speak for reducing waste, improving customer satisfaction and increasing efficiency.

Early voting for the March 4 primary is underway and ends Feb. 28.

Whoever emerges as the Republican candidate for comptroller in November’s general election will face Mike Collier, the former chief financial officer of a Houston-based energy company and a former partner in the accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCooper. Collier is running unopposed in the Democratic primary.