Susan Combs addresses Texas economy
By Robin Scott
Ms. Combs emphasized that Texas is doing much better economically than most other states. She contributes part of the success Texas is experiencing to what happened in the 1980’s. She stated, “The Mid 80’s were really bad for Texas. We vowed to never again fail to diversify. Now we have much more diversification and Texas’ averages are very good. Dalhart beats the state averages in sales tax, unemployment and health issues.” She noted that Texas’ statewide unemployment is 6.7%, but in Dalhart it is only 3.2%.”
Of particular importance to tax payers is the newly created “Open Book Texas,” a three-part effort to ensure tax dollars go further, especially in today’s economy. The three projects include Texas Smart Buy, the Texas Transparency Check-Up website and the Single Set of Books initiative. Ms. Combs stated, “Texans deserve to know their tax dollars are being used wisely. Families are cutting expenses and looking for ways to save. Government must do the same.” In January 2007, she began allowing Texans to view the comptroller’s office expenditures online, right down to the cost of pencils. The searchable award winning website “Where the Money Goes” includes detailed payment and spending information for all state agencies.
The website provides “transparency” to taxpayers, and Combs stated, “We were able to better analyze where and how we were getting money within our agency and where and how we could save.” Her agency has saved $4.8 million and identified an additional $3.8 million in expected cost savings. An example of savings was a consolidation of multiple contracts and toner cartridges at a savings of $73,000. Also, establishing separate post office boxes to receive different types of tax payments and avoiding having to spend $328,000 to buy and maintain a new mail sorter.
Texas Smart Buy is an initiative to leverage buying power and identify smarter ways to buy and save with strategic sourcing methods and tools for state and local government. Businesses in Texas may visit txsmartbuy.com and find ways to take part in collective buying in order to save. Ms. Combs stated that she has already saved her department 8 million dollars in just two years. She noted, “Our Smart Buy initiative has already begun digging through what state agencies spend annually for goods and services.” She expects to save at least $28 million in Phase One of the Texas Smart Buy. The savings and cost avoidance represent more than 8 percent of state spending for certain goods and services. TxSmartBuy is an online shopping cart. Ms. Combs stated, “It is an online shopping cart, much like you see on retail websites, that will allow state agencies, public universities and local governments to search for goods and services, compare prices and specifications and order directly through the site, saving money by taking advantage of the state’s bulk buying power.”
The third Open Book Texas project is an initiative toward creating a single set of books and Combs expects improved government accountability. The 2007 Legislature asked Combs to create an advisory council with other state agencies to examine uniform financial accounting in state government and their official report is nearly complete. Combs stated, “Currently, a state agency may have its own way of bookkeeping and its own codes for tracking and classifying items. This could lead to the state having different sets of conflicting data. To get a true picture of state finances and allows state leaders to obtain real-time, reliable information to make well-informed decisions.”
Other topic areas touched upon by the Comptroller were the Texas Rainy Day Fund, which has approximately 9 billion dollars. The fund won’t be used for another two years, when the economy in Texas is expected to hit a low. The fund will help close the gap that has occurred from the property tax breaks. Combs also spoke about unclaimed property and urged every Texas citizen to visit www.claimittexas.org and search on their own name and every family member’s name. She gave examples of finding money for one of her children, and she brought two checks with her. One in the amount of $283.86 for Dallam County and the other in the amount of $519.00 for Hartley County. She also searched on the names of many Texas residents who are owed money, including Beyonce and Lyle Lovett who were both owed money.
Ms. Combs responded to several questions from the audience. One regarding a state personal income tax prompted her to say, “It ain’t going to happen. It will not happen. There are a lot of problems with the corporate tax, but still it is better than a personal income tax.” Another question concerned the Federal stimulus money. Combs stated, “I’m very high on taking the TxDOT money, what I’m not high on is the Federal budget.” She noted that the money for highway projects is very useful for Texas. She’s pleased about the stimulus money dedicated for TxDOT.