"Simpler, smarter and faster" is Susan Combs' philosophy that is saving taxpayer dollars and making it easer for all Texans to work with the Comptroller's Office.
Susan's transparency initiative not only opened state government to taxpayer scrutiny her fourth day in office, but also has highlighted redundancies and inefficiencies in spending within state agencies. Susan's top-to-bottom review of the Comptroller's Office already has saved taxpayers more than $10 million and has won her Where the Money Goes website national recognition for open government ingenuity.
Susan took what the Comptroller's Office learned through its transparency efforts and applied the same "buying smart" strategies to city, county and state governments as a whole. The unprecedented online TexasSmartBuy is helping ensure governments are getting the best price possible, typically by buying in bulk, just as many Texas families do at large discount warehouses. TexasSmartBuy already has saved the state more than $49 million.
As a business owner, Susan also knows time-saving procedures can impact a company's bottom line and are sometimes the difference between a profit and loss. Susan is making it easier and simpler to do business with the Comptroller's Office saving both the state and businesses time and money. She streamlined the Comptroller's website for easier access to information and developed new websites to provide specific information for communities, businesses and the public. Susan put more tax information and forms online so individuals and businesses have access 24 hours a day -- at their convenience.
Susan initiated two new electronic tax systems in the Crude Oil/Natural Gas section to provide faster and more complete information to taxpayers.
She also ensures the Comptroller's Office is providing the one-on-one service helpful to many taxpayers. The agency has conducted about 120 local tax seminars -- in English and Spanish -- across Texas to help individual taxpayers with their state taxes. The Comptroller's Office also launched webcasts and webinars to answer taxpayer questions.
Susan made the Property Tax Assistance Division, a stand-alone division at the Comptroller's Office. The new name and independent identity emphasize Susan's strong customer service efforts to provide much-needed tax assistance to local governments and to help remove a lot of the confusion Texas taxpayers may have about the appraisal procedure. The division's webpage is a valuable online tool for both taxpayers and local appraisal districts.
As chief administrator of the state's tax laws, Susan firmly believes the Comptroller's Office must impose the highest standard of fairness for all taxpayers. Making good on a promise to all taxpayers, Susan has improved the entire tax process structure. She revised the Hearings Tracking System to enhance integration and customer service, and on the ninth day she was in office transferred administrative law judges to the independent State Office of Administrative Hearings. She also established a Special Counsel for Tax Hearings to assure independent decisions. The revised hearing process is resolving issues in a timely manner and saving both taxpayers and the state time and money. This increased responsiveness has reduced the tax case load at SOAH by 6 percent.
In 2007, Susan worked with the Texas Legislature to give the Comptroller's office new authority to require distributors of alcohol and tobacco products to report monthly sales to retail outlets. Having this information allows auditors at the Comptroller's office capability to identify shortfalls between distributors' reports against taxable sales already reported by retailers. Since January 2008, the Comptroller's office has assessed nearly $90 million in unreported sales tax that might have gone unreported had this new law not been passed.
In addition, Susan tightened audit deadlines for both the agency and taxpayers to avoid undue delays. By following strict guidelines, the Comptroller's Office has reduced the number of days to conduct an audit by almost three months. The amount of time to issue tax refunds also was shortened by more than a month.
Susan also has implemented innovative measures to update the Unclaimed Property Program to return forgotten property to its rightful owner. During fiscal years 2007 and 2008, the agency returned more than $240 million to the citizens of Texas.
Susan's belief that government must work smartly and efficiently is paying off for all Texans. She is cutting government spending and holding state agencies fiscally accountable to the people they serve. She is reducing red tape and bureaucratic paperwork and making it easier and simpler for citizens and taxpayers to do business with the Comptroller's Office. She is putting strong business sense and practical common sense to work for Texas.