State Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has been going on for months about how he doesn't have enough in the way of state funding to properly run his agency. However, it turns out that is apparently, hilariously and ridiculously not entirely true, based on the bonuses Miller has been giving out this year.
Miller been consistently entertaining since he took office nine months ago. Aside from all the headline grabbing hi-jinks — his love of cupcakes, his habit of parking where he's not supposed to at the state capitol building, his apparent nuclear-level dislike of Muslims and the fact that it seems he's itching to slap anyone who wishes him "happy holidays" this week — the guy has been hilarious to watch by the sheer lack of skill he has brought to managing the Ag Commission. (And keep in mind his predecessor, Todd Staples wasn't much to brag about but somehow Miller has even made Staples look almost, well, competent.)
Back in 2011, when the state legislature was going after state agency budgets with a meat cleaver, Miller, then a state representative, voted to cut the Texas Agriculture Commission's budget, along with a whole lot of other budget cuts.
To give him benefit of the doubt, we're betting that Miller had no idea he would be the one trying to actually run the ag commission along the lines of its slimmed-down 2011 budget at that time.
But life has a sense of humor, and that's just what happened to Miller after he was easily elected to his post in November 2014. He was all about budget cuts and not spending a state-funded dime that didn't need to be spent when he was in the Lege but his tune changed the second he became head of the agency.
He started really pushing for more money in the spring. Miller isn't exactly the shy and retiring type so he went right up to the state legislature and started lobbying for more money. Miller claimed that the agency couldn't run on the amount of money allotted by the Lege so he went to legislators and asked them for an increase of about $50 million so that he and his commission could catch up on a backlog of complaints and consumer protection violations.
(Coincidentally Staples told the Texas Tribune at the time that the ag commission had come under budget so steadily under him that they had actually given back about, you know, $50 million to the state in recent years.)
The Lege ultimately bumped up his budget by a few million dollars, nowhere near the amount he'd asked for, and Miller had some dire predictions about how his agency wouldn't be able to monitor everything from pesticide use to regulating gas stations and pawnshops and a whole bunch of other stuff that falls under the agency's purview.
When he didn't get the funds from the state, Miller announced he was going to make up for the gap with an increase in fees. And that's just what he did.
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Last week, Miller was called before a state Senate committee to explain the steep fee increases he is instituting as of January 1 — increases that caught both politicians and business owners by surprise, never a healthy thing to do in Texas politics — according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Anyway, there's a punchline to all of this. Miller has portrayed himself as a valiant fiscal conservative who is just trying to make sure his agency has enough cash to survive, but here's the thing: Miller isn't quite as careful with money as he would have everyone believe.
In fact, it must be pretty nice to work for Miller. From January to September of this year Miller has doled out $413,700 in one-time cash rewards to 144 employees, according to the Houston Chronicle, the most of any statewide official recently elected and more than what has been given out by Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton and Comptroller Glenn Hegar combined.
So despite all of Miller's dire representations of the state of the Texas Agriculture Agency, it appears that things can't be that bad since he's been giving employees cash prizes since he got in the door nine months ago.