The Issue Is: A conversation with State Comptroller Glenn Hegar about Texas' $33 billion surplus

The state continues to figure out what to do with the gigantic $33 billion budget surplus. We sat down with the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of the Texas government, State Comptroller Glenn Hager to share his thoughts on the matter. 

Greg Groogan: "You are the CFO (Chief Financial Officer) for the 9th biggest economy in the world and I kind of think of you as the personal doctor for the state government's financial condition, give us a sense of that."

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Texas Comptroller Glenn Hager: "Really the last year plus has been historical in revenues that have come into the state treasury, in part because of very robust sales tax. Just to put that into perspective, almost 60 percent of all the tax collections in the state are sales tax, so that's why that one is more important than any of the others, from the data point. Then severance tax collections, gas, oil both of those have been very historical and then one of the aspects I just continue to emphasize is, unfortunately, all of us have paid a lot more for items that we have been purchasing now for the last 18 months, with 40-year high record inflation.

"So, in part, what that means, in a given month, in just the last two, three months, average Texans spend, on just taxable items, that doesn't include groceries, that doesn't include items for medication, because those are nor sales tax, but just on sales tax items they are paying about $4.5 billion a month more than the for the same items a year ago. $45 billion dollars a year more for those taxable items, and so my point being is the economy has out-performed any expectation we could have expected here in Texas, but also part of that is you and I are paying more than we were a year ago."

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Groogan: "Everybody who walks in this room and talks to you is waiting to hear the big number. What do you project is going to be available?"

Hegar: "We have a cash carry-over balance of remarkably almost $33 billion. This is truly a historical, once-in-a-lifetime budgeting opportunity for the legislature."

Groogan: "We have heard the governor say he would like a good chunk of this surplus refunded in some form in property tax relief. We have also heard Speaker Phelan call this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in badly needed infrastructure. I know part of your role is to give guidance."

Hegar: "They can almost set it aside to be able to have property tax relief in two years and four years and six years which is really why this is a historical opportunity because that does not exist in prior legislative sessions."

"I have a couple of concerns, one, making sure we keep our eye on the ball, per se, which is investing in that infrastructure, whether it's roads water or our electrical grid, broadband, internet coverage which 3 million people across this state don't have it at their homes, which is an astonishing number. Also, understand that we have to have quality state employees, we have to have teachers, we have to have nurses, we have to have skilled trade people that can come and do the basic plumbing and air conditioning work and carpentry work and I think we can invest in some of those areas as well."

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Groogan: "I think what I just heard is that Texans paid their taxes up front through inflation and our sales tax and so this is their money."

Hegar: "This is not the state's money, it's the taxpayer's money."