After months spent chasing his opponent, Democratic comptroller candidate Mike Collier finally had his chance to go one-on-one with Republican candidate Glenn Hegar Wednesday night. He used it to make the case that an accountant, not a politician, is best suited to be the state's chief bookkeeper.
Collier, a Houston accountant, and Hegar, a farmer and the youngest Republican state senator, met on the set of Austin's Time Warner Cable news for a 30-minute interview, their only joint appearance of the campaign.
Hegar handily leads the race in both cash on hand and polling. His remaining war chest of $2.1 million is about 200 times Collier's, and he's ahead by 15 points according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
Both candidates agreed the office of the comptroller of public accounts can do its job better. Credentials aside, their biggest flare up came over property taxes.
Collier accused Hegar of bottling up in committee legislation to fix the state’s property tax system, which some say allows large property owners to dramatically lower their appraisals. Collier said the loophole potentially cost local governments and schools $4 billion in property taxes over the past five years.
"When the legislation comes before the Legislature, there’s got to be somebody arguing against the special interest,” Collier said. "Senator Hegar, I think you know about this, because it came before your committee and you didn’t work on it.”
Hegar said Collier's assertion was misleading.
“Well, I worked on it harder than anyone else, and the fact is you have to find the right solution before you put anything in place,” Hegar said. “It’s kind of one of those continued misleading efforts by some to attack in this race.”
Collier also hit Hegar for wanting to lower — or even eliminate — property taxes. Collier has made revamping property taxes a critical point in his campaign.
“What Senator Hegar’s been campaigning on is not to fix the property tax system, his strong preference expressed in the primary is to get rid of the property tax system — which would triple our sales tax,” Collier said.
But Hegar referenced a PolitiFact article reporting that, while Hegar wants to get rid of property taxes, he hasn't promised to actually do it.
“That’s another one of your little misleading efforts,” Hegar said.
Collier outlined several of his goals for reforming and improving the comptroller’s office, including increasing the number of state revenue forecasts estimates from once every two years to once every quarter.
“The information will be much more timely — timely to voters and timely to the legislatures,” Collier said.
Collier also advocated moving agencies that were not related to the office’s constitutional purposes into other branches of state government, including agencies like the Major Events Trust, which garnered controversy recently when it was revealed the trust gave millions of dollars to the Circuit of the Americas, without receiving a formal written application.
Hegar said he would look at whether certain agencies in the comptroller’s office should be moved elsewhere, though he emphasized that would be a decision left to the legislature. One issue Hegar took special interest in during the debate was data security, referencing a breach in the comptroller’s office that resulted in 3.5 million Social Security numbers — including Hegar's — being leaked.
"You need to wake up every single day and be worried,” Hegar said.