The Comptroller of Public Accounts is elected to a four-year term and is responsible for tax collection, accounting, and estimating revenue for the state and acts as the custodian of state funds and investments. The constitutional provisions governing state budgeting and spending, and the combination of several economic and financial duties in one office, make the Comptroller more powerful than it may seem at first glance.
The Comptroller's job may seem dry and technical, but a critical part of the Comptroller's constitutional responsibility puts him or her squarely in the middle of the highly political legislative budget process. Texas operates under a balanced budget requirement - or pay-as-you-go principle - meaning that by law the state legislature cannot adopt a budget that exceeds anticipated revenue. Simply put, the Legislature is formally forbidden from spending more than it collects. It is the Comptroller's responsibility to deliver a revenue forecast and to certify that the budget passed by the legislature is within that revenue estimate. In short, as Comptroller John Sharp (1991-1999) put it, "the legislature can't spend more than you say it can." Overriding the Comptroller's action requires a nearly impossible four-fifths majority in both houses of the legislature, and though Comptroller Robert M. Love was shot to death at his desk in the Capitol in 1903, neither he nor any other Comptroller has ever been overridden. 
The Comptroller's taxation and budget responsibilities include a diverse range of duties and services, including collecting the various taxes imposed by the state (for example sales tax, motor fuel tax, inheritance tax) and facilitating payment of those taxes by providing forms, schedules, and other taxpayer assistance. Returning abandoned money and property is also the Comptroller's duty, a job facilitated in recent years by the World Wide Web. Use the Comptroller's search engine to find out if you or someone you know has unclaimed property in his or her name.
The abolition of the office of Treasurer in 1996 transferred additional power to the hands of the Comptroller. When the Treasurer's office was eliminated, state banking responsibilities were added to the comptroller's traditional tax and revenue duties. The Comptroller had previously performed a job akin to being the state's chief accountant; now, the office also manages state funds. This additional role entails investing state deposits so as to generate additional revenue. Some responsibility in this area is shared with the State Depository Board, which authorizes financial institutions to receive state funds.
Comptrollers may be prominent contestants in the political arena because of their strategic position at the crossroads of key policy areas such as taxation, budgeting, and finance. Bob Bullock, one of the major figures in state politics for three decades, was Comptroller from 1975 to 1991, and used his long tenure as a platform for his successful efforts to be elected Lieutenant Governor. His successor, John Sharp (1991-1999), also had a long stay in the position and also subsequently attempted to win the Lieutenant Governor's office twice (in 1998 and 2002), losing both times. Later, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn won election to the office after a successful political career in Austin that included being mayor and subsequently serving on the State Insurance Board and on the Texas Railroad Commission.
Succeeding Republican Carole Keeton Strayhorn and elected by a wide margin in 2006 and re-elected in 2010, Susan Combs is the second Republican in a row (and the second Republican in Texas history) to be elected Comptroller, reinforcing the shift in party politics in the last two decades toward the Republican Party.
1 John Sharp, "Dear Carole," Texas Monthly, link: www.texasmonthly.com/biz/1999/jun/carole.1.html. Quoted in Ginsberg, Lowi, Weir, We the People, 3rd edition. New York: