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For Immediate Release
June 7, 2010

Running Government Like the Business It Is

By Susan Combs
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

When budgets are tight, tax receipts are down and deficits are looming, those of us in Austin are often asked, “Why don’t you run government like it’s a business?” As the state’s Comptroller responsible for Texas’ finances, acting as tax collector, chief accountant, revenue estimator and treasurer, I can assure you it IS a business. To run it even better as the business it is, we must tap the talents of men and women with business training, skills and perspectives.

While “doing business as” the state government of Texas, we are responsible for providing a vast range of services, including education, economic development, health and human services, and transportation.

At the end of fiscal 2009, we had more than $193 billion in assets, with assets exceeding liabilities by $130 billion. Our total revenues were $98.6 billion, but that represented a decline of 0.8 percent at a time when our expenses were increasing 12.3 percent, driven in part by increased funding for Medicaid.

While our overall business fell by 1.7 percent last year, as measured by our gross state product, we still outperformed our “competitors” in places like California and New York.

In 2009, this “business” of ours raised $5.6 billion in the capital markets and today, has a AAA rating from Fitch. In fact, last year, as Wall Street investors took their flights to quality, many headed in Texas’ direction, impressed with our fiscal discipline and our foresight in establishing rainy day reserves. And they took notice of the fact that we’re a “growth stock” that gained more than 478,000 new “customers” — or residents, if you will — last year, significantly more than any of our peers.

Those new Texans join our 24 million-strong customer base that must be well-served by dedicated public servants. We also have an activist “board of directors” that has the power to remove the executive team, if they deem it is not managing within its means and producing desired results. Further, our “investors” want what all investors want: maximum return for the least expenditure of resources.

As Texas taxpayers, you are all three of those important stakeholders. So how do we run government like a business for you?

We maximize efficiencies by demonstrating the actual cost of government programs. That also means employing technology to provide better budget projections and more effective audit and tax collection.

We identify investment needs/opportunities, such as devoting more resources to developing the work force of tomorrow through Every Chance funds that offer more Texans the opportunity to hone skills demanded in today’s economy.

We insist on healthy returns on investment, continually seeking ways to achieve volume discounts and economies of scale for state agencies in the procurement and strategic sourcing of goods and services. We also act as a catalyst for sharing best practices, something we are doing now with Texas public schools as, together, we review how school districts spend their funds.

We continually engage and inform our stakeholders, offering tools such as our agency’s Where the Money Goes website that is a model for transparent government. And we encourage local government to follow our lead and open their windows to the public scrutiny that can lead to new ideas for greater fiscal responsibility.

So yes, we are running the state government like a business, with difficult business challenges that must be met. To help us, the Comptroller’s office has 47 employees who have earned a Master of Business Administration degree, applying their education to help make your government run more like a business. And quite frankly, I’d like to see more young people from our business schools consider careers with state government or examine our efforts as worthy case studies in how business fundamentals can or should be applied in the public sector.

I’m told that most MBA applicants share a similar long-term career goal: to have a real impact at a high level. What better arena than being in the business of making government work better?

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