AUSTIN (KXAN) – The state’s Agriculture commissioner says his department needs more funding to protect Texans from getting cheated. Sid Miller told a Senate committee Monday it will take $50 million for the department to regulate gas pumps, taxicab meters, and other businesses like it’s supposed to. Part of the problem is the department’s budget came up almost $8 million short.
“I’m interesting in being the Ag commissioner,” said Miller. “I’m not interested in running for lieutenant governor or governor, but I want to serve the people of this state.”
The last three commissioners of the department were Todd Staples, Susan Combs and Rick Perry. With a cowboy hat by his side, Miller encouraged lawmakers to restore around $50 million that were cut in 2011. To make up for the lost funding, the department started raising their money through fees. But due to a lack of manpower, certain fees were never collected and Miller says the department missed out on nearly $8 million. The money is missing from their “cost recovery” programs.
Fees for marketing brands as “from Texas” and licensing fees on pesticides were never collected by the Todd Staples administration. Miller says he is not pointing fingers and that Staples had to deal with the problem himself. While that was happening, the department didn’t have enough inspectors — currently 147 — to do their job. Miller says half the state’s pesticide inspections are not in compliance.
“I certainly don’t want someone’s pet or children poisoned by pesticide applicator on my watch,” said Miller. “That’s outrageous; that’s scary outrageous.”
Miller wants money for 92 employees, many of them inspectors, that he said are needed to catch up with Texas’s booming population.
“Pretty much, the fat has been cut out of it, and some areas it’s been cut a little too hard,” said Miller.
The $50 million is not in the Senate or the House rough draft budget, so Miller will work the committee rooms in the hopes that it will be.
The Department of Agriculture regulates anything with a scale or ticker, like a produce weight at the grocery store or gas pump. During an interview with KXAN earlier this month, Miller said it would take eight years with his current staff to inspect the state’s 400,000 gas pumps. Taxi cab meters have never been checked to make sure they calculate your fare correctly, and the Department also has a two-year backlog of fraud complaints to investigate.
Miller is also calling for a year-long audit of his Department — something never done before — to make sure money is being spent wisely.