AUSTIN — Businessman Mike Collier wants to be the next lieutenant governor of Texas. The Democrat says he has ideas to decrease property taxes and better fund public education. He sat down with KVUE's Ashley Goudeau to discuss those ideas and why he's running.
Ashley Goudeau: Begin by telling our viewers a little bit about yourself and why you're running for lieutenant governor.
Mike Collier: "Well thank you, I'm happy to. So, I've never done anything in politics except run for office, I ran for comptroller, and the reason why I ran, and this was in 2014, is because I was very unhappy that the legislature would cut public education by $5.4 billion and not be honest with us. They told us that we had a deficit, well we didn't have a deficit. And I smelled a rat, because my property taxes were going up, yet we're being told that we don't have money for schools. And as I began to look at it, I realized that we aren't being, they aren't being honest with us. And public education is too important. I'm a financial person, I'm a CPA, and the Democrats were looking for somebody to run for comptroller. They couldn't find anybody, 'cause you can't win if you're a Democrat running statewide, that's the thought, and no politician would bet their political career. Well, I'm not a politician, so I don't have a career to bet. I have nothing to lose and I felt like we had everything to gain, so I jumped in. And of course, now I'm running for lieutenant governor, a more powerful position, but it comes back to the same place, which is that we aren't solving our problems honestly. We need more funding for public education. Property taxes can't keep going up. And so we have to solve those problems and health care and other problems. And I'm a problem solver, so that's why I'm running."
Goudeau: You mentioned that you're a CPA, tell our viewers a little about your background and your history.
Collier: "OK, well certainly. Well, I went to UT and I went to high school here in Georgetown. Mom and Dad still live there, so hello Mom and Dad. So, I went to high school in Georgetown, went to UT, got an undergraduate degree in petroleum land management and started my career at Exxon. But I wanted to do something in finance. So I came back to UT and got an MBA and then Price Water House hired me. Ultimately Price Water House Coopers, and I was there for a long time, 22 years, became a CPA, became a partner, became a senior partner. And then when it was time to run for office, I took early retirement. And so I've always felt like politics would work a lot better if people learned a skill in the private sector and then made it available to the public. Do good work, don't stay too long, always be honest and then get back into the private sector when you're done, so I've always felt like I would use my financial skills to solve problems, and when I saw what was happening in Texas, in public education and property taxes, I thought well that's a huge problem that needs a financial person to solve and that brings us to the present."
Goudeau: You've never held political office before, and as you said earlier, the Democrats don't have a good history of winning statewide elections. So why put yourself out there for lieutenant governor? Do you feel like it's a little ambitious?
Collier: "Well, first of all, you know, the fact that I'm running as a Democrat, I think, is testimony to the fact that I'm running on principles. I didn't pick the easy route to office. You might say I picked the hardest route to office, because in Texas it's hard to get elected as a Democrat. However, I'm running on issues that Texans are very passionate about; public education, property taxes, health care and therefore we have a real possibility of winning. And so that's why I've thrown my shoulder to this wheel. I'm not afraid of the odds. I think folks are very responsive to what we are doing."
Goudeau: Are there are some things about Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in particular that you're unhappy with? His leadership style or why you're deciding to challenge him?
Collier: "I think Dan Patrick is a terrible lieutenant governor. I don't mince words. I think he's a terrible lieutenant governor. He has not solved the public education funding problem, property taxes have gone up dramatically on his watch, he's done nothing to deal with health care, he's done nothing to deal with water infrastructure, he's done nothing to deal with transportation infrastructure. He's wasted everyone's time on a bathroom bill. Two sessions, because he's all about stunts and gimmicks and Dan Patrick, he's not about Texas. And that's why I'm running for lieutenant governor. You know, you can solve problems if you're Lt. Governor. Dan Patrick refuses to solve problems. And let me dive a little into property taxes if I may, because I'm at ground zero in Austin, Texas, when it comes to the property tax crisis. And, you know, your listeners understand their property tax bills are going up dramatically. There are people that can't afford to live in their homes that have to move out because of property taxes. It's criminal what's happening in Austin. And the increase largely is due to Robin Hood. You know, close to half of the property taxes that people pay in Austin goes to pay for the state, not for public education. Now, what has Dan Patrick done to solve that problem? He hasn't lifted a finger to solve that problem. Moreover, if you look at the state budget, the state budget itself, Dan Patrick's document says that property taxes shall be increased. It's in the state budget and it's huge. So Dan Patrick is not solving these problems. They're getting much worse under his watch. And that's why he's the worst lieutenant governor, in my opinion, in our state's history, and that's why I'm running against him."
Goudeau: There have been several invitations to debate, to do interviews, between you and the lieutenant governor. He has either not responded or declined those invitations. Some might say this is a strategy not to give you legitimacy as a candidate. What do you think about his unwillingness to debate you?
Collier: "I think he's afraid of me. I think there's no question. I mean, Dan Patrick has never once in his career avoided a debate. He's run around and chased people he's not running against and asked them to debate. In 2014, he chased one of the Castro brothers, Julian, if I'm not mistaken, and demanded a debate. It was fun to watch, but it was bizarre. He wasn't even running against him. He's chased Geraldo Rivera, asking him to debate. The only person he's ever refused to debate in his career is me. Why? Because I have command of the facts, particularly as it relates to property taxes. I've said this many, many times, if you raise property taxes on Texans and lie about it, you will not be reelected. Dan Patrick has done just that. It's in the budget. I have command of the facts and a debate will expose that. However, I still think he must debate, because I think Texans deserve it. They'll be furious if he doesn't debate because then he's really mocking Texans. I mean look, are we in this? Is Dan Patrick in this? Am I in this because of our power, perks and privileges that we crave, or are we doing this to solve problems for our state? If you're sincere and you're solving problems for the state, you put yourself out there in front of voters. And if you can't defend yourself, then go do something else."
Goudeau: Let's dive into the issues. Obviously one of the biggest issues that I think a lot of Texans are facing and grappling with, something you mentioned earlier, is property taxes. And now to his credit, the lieutenant governor did want to put a cap on property tax increases whenever it came for cities, municipalities, counties. What are your thoughts on how we truly address property taxes in the state of Texas?
Collier: "Well, first of all, you know, Dan Patrick always talks about property taxes, but they always go up when he's in power. So he ran in 2006 for Senate saying that property taxes will come down, and they went up. Ran for re-election in 2010, saying that property taxes will go down, and they went up. Ran for lieutenant governor in 2014 saying that property taxes will go down and they went up. They went up more on his watch as lieutenant governor, and it's right there in the state budget, than any lieutenant governor in history. The reason is he's not dealing honestly with the root cause of the issue. And putting artificial limits on local government to solve the problem is a disastrous approach because we won't have enough money for police, and for fire, and for schools, and for roads. He is refusing to deal with the root cause of the issue. Why? Because he's the problem. Now let me tell you specifically what that is. Back in 1997, the state passed a law called equal-in-uniform, it's in the property tax code. And it created a loophole. Everyone knows about this loophole. It's called the equal-in-uniform loophole. The owners of large commercial industrial properties are not paying their taxes. It's a huge number. They're underpaying their taxes by $5 billion a year. Now every penny that they don't pay is an extra penny that we as homeowners pay. That loophole is wide open, and it's kept open by Dan Patrick and others because they're taking money, campaign money, from the owners of these large commercial-industrial properties. Now, I'm not taking any money, campaign money, from the owners of these large commercial-industrial properties, and as lieutenant governor, I will attack the root cause of the issue and close that loophole. Once we close that loophole and recover that $5 billion, now we can begin to solve the public education problem and the property tax problem and give Texans a taste of honest financial leadership. Now, will that be enough? I don't know. I hope. And at the same time, we want to restructure our state auditor to make sure that we aren't, as we say in the business world, bleeding money. We want to make sure that there's no fraud, waste and abuse. We don't have a state auditor, he quit. I don't know if you know this, but our state auditor quit, in 2015 John Keel. And the lieutenant governor is responsible for replacing him and he has not, we don't have a state auditor. I, in contrast, am going to create an audit performance and integrity commission, separated from politics. Let's make sure that we're not wasting money or being cheated with bad contracts, etcetera. So you do those two things Ashley, close that equal-in-uniform loophole to recover that $5 billion and restructure the auditor so that we know that we're getting the most for our money. First of all, that'll solve a lot of problems. And we'll give Texans a taste of honest financial leadership. That'll take four years. That'll take a lieutenant governor's term. If there's more work to be done from a revenue standpoint after my first term, then I will propose the next step at that time. Texans can vote me in or vote me out. That's the way democracy ought to work."
Goudeau: Now while it is true that property taxes have increased over the past few years, the state is limited on their ability to directly impact a property tax for a homeowner because that is set by city, county and schools. We should point that out, right?
Collier: "Well, but here's the deal. I mean, yes. Property taxes are collected locally. But if the state stops putting money into schools and stops paying for transportation and pushes unfunded mandates down to the counties, then the school districts and the counties have no choice but to collect more revenues as property values go up. But it's even more sinister than that, Ashley. The Texas Education Agency sent a letter to all the school districts and said even though your property values are going up, you must not reduce your tax rate. If you reduce your tax rate and collect less money, we will cut state funding. It's that serious. So those that say that it's not state policy that produces high property taxes are not being honest."
Goudeau: One of the things I think is interesting, I've interviewed the lieutenant governor before and his mindset that he explained to me at the time was that if property taxes are lower, then the state naturally would have to put more money into education. There are a lot of people who say, 'no, it's flip-flopped, its reversed.' Where do you stand on that?
Collier: "Well, property taxes, property values go up automatically. It doesn't have anything to do with state policy. It has to do with the fact that we live in Texas and people want to live here, so values go up. But if you hold the rates steady, then property taxes go way up. And what the state does is they look at that and they go, 'Wow! Look at all the property tax money that's flowing in, we're going to put less state money in.' And that means our taxes are going up, but we're not getting more for our money. The state is putting in less. Now it's even worse than that, Ashley. If you go back to the beginning of Dan Patrick's term as lieutenant governor, he signed up and he thought that he was looking at a state surplus. Do you remember? He wasn't realizing the reason there's a surplus in the state's books is because we're being overtaxed locally. But he saw a surplus in the state's books and decided, well, what are we going to do with that extra money. Well, he said we ought to give it back. Well, who are you going to give it back to? Did he give it back to us? He could've in the form of a sales tax reduction. But he didn't do that. He could've given it back to us in the form of property tax reduction, he didn't do that. He gave us a small temporary tax cut. But the big winner of the Texas tax cut sweepstakes four years ago were the large corporations, who got a huge $2.5 billion permanent growing tax cut. Now what that means is that Dan Patrick has deliberately shifted the tax burden away from large corporations and onto our backs as homeowners. That property tax crisis that we face in the state is directly the result of state fiscal policy, and that's the work that I'm in; to explain to Texans how the pieces fit together so that they make a good decision, so we can solve this problem."
Goudeau: Turning to public education, Texas' funding for its education has often been described as lawful but awful. Where will you find the money to better fund public education?
Collier: "I don't think that our public education system is lawful. I think it's unlawful. As I read the constitution, I think it's unlawful. And the fact that the courts said OK the last time that they were sued by school districts, I think, is politics in that decision. But let's set politics aside. Where's the money going to come from? That's the big question, right? First order of business is to close that big corporate loophole, which everyone knows about, it's very, very well documented. I mean Rick Perry talked about it when he was governor. The Legislative Budget Board as recently as 2016 wrote a report, the GEER Report, G-E-E-R, Government Efficiency and Effectiveness Report, if I'm not mistaken. That property tax loophole is real, it's well documented. Close that loophole and we recover $5 billion a year, which is a lot of money for public education. We're spending a little bit over $50 billion a year now, so you can see that $5 billion goes a long way. So we have to put more money into public education. It cannot come from homeowners. Everybody in Austin, Texas, knows that. It can't come from small businesses because they're being charged extraordinary amounts of money for property taxes. It will come from closing that loophole. That's where the money's going to come from. I'll close it, and Dan Patrick will not."
Goudeau: When we look at health care, Texas has the highest rate of uninsured people in the country, how would you as lieutenant governor help address health care?
Collier: "Well, you know, we should expand Medicaid, 33 other states have done it. It's a good deal financially for Texas. I mean, I can understand when it was first introduced a few years ago there was concern. I get it. What happens if we expand Medicaid and then it's taken away from us? Well, it's not going to be taken away from us. Thirty-three other states now are relying on it. Texas should expand Medicaid. That will allow a million or more hard-working Texans to have health care that they don't have. And if you think about it, Ashley, these are people that are working as hard as they can. This is not, you know, this is not a giveaway. These are people that are working as hard as they can, at one or two jobs. They're making the most money they possibly can. But because wages have not grown, but the cost of health care has exploded, they can't afford health care. There's nothing they can do about it. Well, the federal government has a program to close that coverage gap that will not cost Texans one dime. I mean, it's a very good financial deal for us. Texas Association of Business thinks it's a great deal for us. Thirty-three other states have done and then, if you think about it, every time another state signs up, our burden goes up because we're paying for our health care plus we're paying for their health care. Not expanding it is stupid. There's no other way to describe it. So we should expand Medicaid and we'll vote on that when I'm lieutenant governor. But that's not the only problem we have to solve in health care. And we have an event, we have lots of events as the campaign unfolds, where we are going to be talking about preexisting conditions. Now, I talk about this everywhere I go, the Affordable Care Act brought us a feature that Texans really cherish and depend on. Which is protection if you have a preexisting condition. The Kaiser Foundation says that about 4.5 million Texans have preexisting conditions. Now, the Texas GOP, Dan Patrick, Ken Paxton, are working feverishly to take those protections away from us, to cancel those protections. If they are successful, and I hope they aren't 'cause we're gonna beat 'em and we're gonna stop this. However, if they are successful, and protections for Texans with pre-existing conditions goes away, according to the Kaiser Foundation, 4.5 million Texans with pre-existing conditions could lose health care overnight. These are people with diabetes, maybe who have a heart condition, or a stroke or obesity, or you're a woman and you might get pregnant, there are lots and lots of things that could happen to you if they take those protections away. So as lieutenant governor, I'll fight very hard for a patient financial bill of rights. It's time, and a key component of that will be absolute protection for Texans with pre-existing conditions so that you do not lose health care."
Goudeau: We all saw the tragedy at Santa Fe High School and it really hit home because it hit Texas. What are your thoughts on how we can make our schools safer places for children?
Collier: "Well, it breaks all of our hearts that this scourge of mass killings has found its way to our state. And it happened in Sutherland Springs in a church, outside of San Antonio, and then it came to Santa Fe High School. And it breaks your heart. So, we have to act. And we do two fundamental things, which our leadership won't do. One, it's gonna cost more money because we need to hire more counselors and trained psychologists and adults in the schools to build relationships with students so that we can act if there's a problem. Right now, the ratio of counselors to students in Texas, we're amongst the worst relative to the 50 states. And when I run around the state talking to people, what I learn is that our counselors are spending their time working on high-stakes testing. We need to have counselors and trained psychologists who build relationships with students. I don't think we should militarize our schools, I don't think we should arm our teachers. I mean, school districts ultimately make those decisions. But what I know we need is more counselors, trained psychologists and that takes money. That takes a lot of money. So, we should appropriate that money at the state level. I'm for that, Dan Patrick is against that. Second, Texans are ready for sensible gun laws. Now, let me be clear, I own a gun. And I am pro second amendment. Nobody's taking my gun. However, we need background checks that work. We already have a background check system, it just isn't working. And we need red flag laws which allow us to take the legal framework that we have now, I mean, some people are not allowed to have weapons if they've been convicted of a violent crime or other reasons. So, a red flag law just says we can act quickly with the courts to solve a crisis before, and not after. Two very simple steps in the direction of sensible gun laws is what we need. Parents want it terribly because, I think about parents, you know, I mean I'm a parent. My children, my sons went to public school. Often, I was the one to take them to school before I went to the office. They were safe with me. Are they safe with the school? Now, when my kids went to school, I felt they were safe. Parents do not feel that way now. And we must act. "
Goudeau: What are your thoughts on how we secure our border? While immigration is a federal issue, there are a lot of things that happen on the ground here in Texas. So, what are your thoughts about border security?
Collier: "Well, we must control the border. I mean, we have to enforce the laws of the United States of America, we all are in agreement with that. However, we should do it intelligently, I mean, let's be smart about it. And we should do it humanely. For example, tearing children away from families is inhumane. It's cruel. Bad policy. Texans are against that. Americans are against that. Second, how do we secure the border? If you go to the border and ask people who live there, and ask law enforcement, as I do routinely, what they tell me is that we need to have technology and coordination of law enforcement. That's how you do it. I don't hear anybody when I travel along the border, and I've spent a lot of time along the border, I don't hear from anybody who's involved in border security telling me the wall's an answer. They say that it's a waste of money. Don't waste money. And when you're talking about money, I'm going to be critical of Dan Patrick again, because we had this program to spend $800 million or $900 million dollars to secure the border, that's our money, didn't work. I mean, nobody told us where that money was going. They refused transparency around what are we getting for that money. And now, low and behold, we're being told the border's not secure and we need to bring in the troops. They've wasted that money. So transparency is a big part of it as well. Then, I think we need comprehensive immigration reform. I think everyone agrees that we need comprehensive immigration reform. And Republicans are in control of everything right now. Why don't they act? It's because I don't believe they support comprehensive immigration reform. And I do."
Goudeau: Give our viewers some final thoughts about why they should elect you to be the next lieutenant governor.
Collier: "Well, first of all, I think that we need a two-party system. I mean, the fact the Republicans are in firm control of politics in the state is a very, very bad answer. I think we need to have effective political competition. One of the reasons why property taxes are so high, one of the reasons why our schools are in such a state of decline, one of the reasons why we aren't dealing effectively with health care, one of the reasons why we have gerrymandering or a problem with gerrymandering, is because we are in the iron grip of a single political party. We need two parties fighting each other. And so I'm from the outside, ready to throw some punches to shake things up. Second, what we really need is someone who knows how to solve these problems and has the desire to solve these problems. Property taxes, you know like I said earlier, here in Austin, we're at ground zero in terms of our property tax crisis that I think is unjust, I think it's illegal and we need to act. Dan Patrick hasn't done anything to solve the property tax problem. In fact, his budget actually states property taxes shall be increased, as we've discussed. So if you have somebody who's not part of the political machine, somebody who brings a skill from the outside world, which is me, with a strong desire to solve problems honestly, then we can solve the problems. That would be the reason why people would vote for me, and I hope they do."
KVUE News reached out to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick about an opportunity to do an interview about this race. We hope to share it with you when it happens.