Katy remains home base for Texas comptroller
Glenn Hegar has served at comptroller for the state of Texas since 2015. Prior to that, he served in the Texas Legislature for 11 years.
A sixth-generation Texan, Hegar now calls Katy home with his wife and children.
You grew up in the Hockley area and still live in the Katy community? How often do you get to the family farm in Hockley?
I grew up on our family farm in Hockley, where my family has lived for generations. If you drive through Hockley and don’t blink, you may notice Hegar Road off of Highway 290. When I married my wonderful wife, Dara, we moved to Katy, her hometown.
I remain a partner in our family farm and stay actively engaged, but I am not able to spend my days at the farm. Serving as comptroller is a full-time job, and it requires my full attention.
That said, I love spending time on the farm and being outdoors with my children. Growing up on the farm taught me critical lessons about life, hard work, honesty and integrity.
There is nothing more humbling than trying to earn a living through farming or ranching. It’s amazing how creative one becomes in solving problems when working on equipment or day-to-day operations on a farm, which is part of the reason I like to get outdoors whenever possible.
Our workdays on the farm started before sunrise, and they didn’t end until long after the sun had set. The farm is where I learned that the day isn’t finished until the job is done. It’s where I learned the importance of fiscal responsibility — accurately forecasting your revenue and expenses, investing wisely and not spending more than you have.
Growing up on the farm, with my extended family close, I was taught the value of faith, which Dara and I have tried to instill in our three children.
The farm is where I learned a particularly meaningful lesson that has guided my life — that a person’s handshake is his word and his bond. The lessons I’ve learned in farming are just as important in the work I do for the state.
Is it difficult as a statewide elected official to have to maintain a residence in Austin?
While many statewide elected officials move to Austin, we decided to keep our family in Katy. Like all families, it is a balancing act between raising three children and maintaining our individual careers.
My job requires me to be in Austin a few days a week and to travel a day or two for events and speeches across the state. Access to Houston’s two airports makes travel easy, which is critical because I want to attend my daughter’s dance practices, spend time with my son at his flag football games and attend my children’s swim meets. Further, living in Katy allows us easy access to College Station for Aggie football games in the fall.
We know it’s important to share not just the big events, but the small, everyday things in life with our children, and we have been privileged to be able to do that.
How has being a sixth-generation Texas shaped you?
It has absolutely shaped me. When people ask why my family moved to Texas in the 1840s, I explain it’s the same reason people move to Texas today — for economic opportunity and to raise a family. Texans have a history of being family-oriented, hard-working individuals, and it is critical that we constantly work to keep Texas a place that is deep in traditions and opportunities for future generations.
My story isn’t so different from that of many Texans. I was the first in my family to graduate from college; my spring breaks were spent working on the farm. My ability to work hard and succeed on my own merits — success built on the example, strength and support of those who came before me — shows the opportunity that is an important part of the story of Texas.
I want to be sure that same opportunity exists for Texans six generations from now, starting with my own children: Claire wants to be a marine biologist; Julia, a sportscaster; and Jonah wants to be state comptroller one day.
They may all change their minds many times before it’s time to choose a career. But I want them, and every other child in this state, to be able to set their sights high and have the chance to achieve their dreams.
As a District 28 state representative and District 18 state senator you represented a segment of the community before winning statewide office. How has your approach to serving people and meeting public needs changed as your job has broadened?
When I initially ran for office in 2002, I made two promises. First, I made a promise to Dara that the day my work interfered with our marriage and family, I would leave public office. Secondly, I made a promise that I wanted my family to always be proud of my service and not let politics become an embarrassment to them.
With that said, my goals have always been the same, though serving in the legislative and executive branches is very different. The Legislature makes policy, and as Comptroller, my job is being the chief financial officer for Texas. My job is to run a 3,000-person agency with a focus on providing customer service to Texas taxpayers and applying strong, fiscally prudent practices so we will leave Texas stronger for future generations.
What are the main duties of the Texas comptroller? What do you like about your job?
As Comptroller, I’m the state’s chief financial officer, serving as treasurer, check writer, tax collector, procurement officer and revenue estimator.
I am passionate about the core duties of the job, which align with my interest in budget and taxes as a state lawmaker and with my focus on checks and balances in our family business.
I like digging into the details of fiscal issues and figuring out ways to make our system work better for Texas taxpayers. After I became Comptroller, I reorganized the agency to allow for more effective decision-making, worked with the Legislature to repeal eight taxes that we used to administer and eliminated inefficient programs.
I work to ensure state taxes and transactions are transparent and easily accessible online. I also founded the “Transparency Stars” program to recognize local governments that provide the public with detailed financial information.
The talented staff at this agency monitors Texas’ economy and ensures that state government maintains strong fund balances. We collect taxes fairly and efficiently, and we supply Texas leaders and lawmakers with the latest and best information about revenues so they can make budget decisions. That includes the upcoming Biennial Revenue Estimate, which sets the parameters for the state budget through the next two years.
We also have a new project, the Texas Bullion Depository, which is the nation’s first state-administered precious metals depository.
The bottom line is that I take the core responsibilities of this job seriously, and I handle them knowing that we are caretakers of Texans’ hard-earned dollars and making predictions that affect every important program in the state.
What is most challenging?
Our biggest challenge is the time frame for the Biennial Revenue Estimate (BRE). We are charged with predicting what the state’s revenues will be over a 2½-year period. That feels like a lifetime when it comes to fiscal matters.
Figuring out what the price of oil will be in the next week is a significant challenge, let alone predicting where prices and production will be 30 months from now. But with experienced, talented staff working hard on the estimate, we will give lawmakers the best information possible, and we will update that information as needed.
The Texas Legislature will start a new session in January. What do you have to do to prepare for it?
We spend a lot of time on research, forecasting and monitoring the economy ahead of the legislative session. We are publishing a series of reports about the big fiscal issues facing the Legislature, and we create many other reports and briefings related to state finances, revenue and taxes.
I have made it clear that I’m quite concerned about key long-term obligations facing the state — and the consequences if they’re not addressed.
Our biggest focus ahead of the legislative session is on the BRE, which forecasts how much money the state is expected to receive through the next two years in tax revenue, federal money and other funds. The BRE tells lawmakers how much money they will have to spend through fiscal year 2021. It sets the boundaries for the state budget, affecting every Texan who pays taxes and uses state services and infrastructure.
What are challenges facing the state? Growth? Education funding? What is your role in meeting those challenges?
The state is growing by 1,100 people a day, so the need for more roads, schools and other infrastructure is always a challenge. In the 2019 legislative session, I think the biggest challenge will be addressing property taxes and funding for our public education system.
On top of that, Texas has long-term financial obligations with regard to state employee pensions, health-care benefits for retired teachers, our prepaid tuition program for higher education and deferred maintenance for state-owned buildings. Texas must address these obligations or face the threat of a downgrade in our credit rating.
I’ve proposed a way to address our long-term obligations by better managing the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF), also known as the rainy day fund. It contains more than $11 billion, and most of it is invested in a way that doesn’t keep up with inflation.
I’d like to use part of the ESF to create an endowment called the Texas Legacy Fund that would generate more revenue for our important obligations. My proposal would keep a healthy balance in the ESF and fully preserve its ability to protect state finances in times of economic volatility. The Texas Legacy Fund would be created using dollars that exceed the sufficient balance required by state law, which currently is $7.5 billion. That money would be smartly invested and generate earnings that could total billions of dollars in future years.
The ESF is a valuable economic resource, and it’s important that we manage taxpayers’ dollars in a prudent and responsible way. I think the Texas Legacy Fund would be a way to do that.
Do you see the bustling Texas economy continuing its growth in 2019?
Stay tuned. I will deliver my Biennial Revenue Estimate on Jan. 7, laying out what’s ahead for Texas for the rest of 2019 and beyond.