In 2013, I learned in Texas, where I live, massive cuts had been made to the education budget based on the prediction of a looming deficit. About 11,500 teachers were fired or forced into early retirement, in turn, pushing some of our best teachers out. There was no money for materials or books or computers or band instruments. The schools had endured the cuts, believing the budget deficit made them necessary. Soon after, however, it became clear that the comptroller who predicted the deficits had gotten it all wrong. The state did not have a massive deficit. The state had a massive surplus.
At the same time, our governor affirmed since he had come into office, overall spending on public education was up seventy percent despite the cuts. I did some sniffing around the internet, and it took less than three minutes for me to notice that this statement ignored inflation and all the ins and outs of school funding. After factoring all these things in, it was clear that Texas investment in public education on a per-student basis had actually gone down ten percent.
With stories like this showing up everywhere across the nation, it is not surprising when April 15 rolls around, reminding Americans that we have to hand over huge sums of the money we work so hard for to the government, we cannot help feeling cold, angry, and frustrated.
How is it possible to mistake a surplus for a deficit, or to forget about inflation? As a CPA with 25 years of experience, I was especially struck by the implications of this story: that a lack of competence with numbers combined with a tendency to overlook errors can lead to public finance disasters and the glaring misuse of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars.
However, competence is paramount in public office – as is a commitment to protecting taxpayers by helping ensure public funds are spent with the public’s interests in mind. CPAs have that competence, especially when it comes to finance and budgets.
To date, we have had plenty of attorneys in office. In the 113th Congress, Lawyers accounted for 42 percent of seats in the House and 59 percent of seats in the Senate. But, CPAs? In 2013, there were all of 10. Lawyers deserve much credit for their contribution. It took a lot of legal heavy lifting to form a nation based on laws, not kingly dynasties. In the early days of the American experiment, the most difficult issues we faced were legal and needed to be ironed out by great legal minds.
However, the biggest issues we face today are not legal they are financial. Our government has grown so large, and our national debt (at $20 trillion) is so overwhelming that we are collapsing under our own weight. We are careening toward financial Armageddon, yet lawyers vastly outnumber accountants in our state and national legislatures.
Clearly, there is a need for more CPAs in office. The obvious reason is, CPAs are good with numbers. The not so obvious reason is that CPAs make their living being analytical, objective, independent, and honest. We have a mindset that values facts, an eye trained for accuracy and an aversion to error. That is why we chose the profession, and the reason we love what we do.
That is why, I decided in 2014, at age 53, to run for Texas Comptroller with no previous political experience. Had I won, I would have been the first Texas Comptroller — the state’s top accountant — to be a CPA. The irony speaks for itself.
I would also have created an independent Audit, Performance, and Integrity Commission for the State of Texas, completely above politics and political influence. It would be by far the most influential organization in the state even though it would have zero political power. Its power would come solely from its independence, objectivity, and honesty. Taxpayers would finally know whom to trust.
This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of unique ideas that CPA’s can bring to solve our crisis in government. With more CPAs in office, April 15 will no longer be a day of such anger and frustration for Americans.
Opinion by Mike Collier
(Edited by Cherese Jackson)
About the Author:
In 2014, Mike Collier ran for the office of Texas Comptroller as a Democrat, against all odds. His insider’s view of Texas politics, stories of campaign-trail adventures and insights into the surprising common ground between Democrats and Republicans are recounted with great humor in his book, “Out of Comptrol: A Converted Democrat’s Improbable Quest to Save Texas Politics.” A retired PwC partner and a CPA with 25 years of experience including as CFO of Layline Petroleum, LLC, Mike received his undergraduate degree in Petroleum Land Management and an MBA from the University of Texas. He and his wife Suzanne have been married for 28 years and have two proud Texan sons.
Book: Out of Comptrol: A Converted Democrat’s Improbable Quest to Save Texas Politics.
CPA Practice Advisor: 29-year-old CPA is youngest in U.S. Congress; 10 CPAs Now in Congress
American Politics Workshop: Why Are There So Many Lawyers in Congress?
Top Image Courtesy of Mike Collier
Inline Image Taken by Mike Anderson Courtesy of KOMU Photo – Flickr License
Featured Image Courtesy of GotCredit– Flickr License