New ag boss wants more inspectors to protect consumers

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Every time you pay at the gas pump, hand over money to the taxi driver, or pull up the grain elevator, how do you know you are getting a fair shake? In Texas, it falls on the Agriculture Department to regulate those things.

But the new commissioner Sid Miller says his department doesn’t have enough money to hire needed inspectors, so he’s reaching out to lawmakers for more cash. A lot more.

Miller, a former state Representative, is telling his old colleagues at the Capitol he wants the 2011 budget cuts restored, cuts he voted for back then. At the time, 30 percent of the agriculture budget was slashed in a statewide belt-tightening. Restoring the funds would mean $11 million more to create a new consumer fraud unit and many other things.

“What the consumer should be thinking is that the agriculture department has got their back, they’re being taken care of,” said Miller. “That’s why we’re going to ask the legislature for help.”

It could take up to eight years with current manpower to inspect all of Texas’ 400,000 gas pumps. There is currently no monitoring of taxi meters and a two-year backlog of fraud cases to deal with. Miller is also asking for a yearlong audit of his department, something that has never been done before.

“It’s not a witch hunt, nothing against the previous administration,” he explains. “I want this as a baseline for me going forward. The satisfaction that everything’s good. If there’s something wrong there I want to get it fixed now.”

Miller wants to hire 47 new inspectors. Thirty-one of those would handle general weights and measures, and eight would create a new consumer fraud unit. The remaining employees would be added to pesticide investigations.

“I usually don’t question that because I assume there is some regulation going on,” Clifford Osborn said he filled up his vehicle, not giving a second thought to whether he might be getting stiffed.

Inspectors checked 133,000 gas pumps in 2014. About 6 percent – or 8,600 pumps – were not compliant, meaning the pumps were either giving off too much or too little gasoline.

“I’d feel good about new inspectors if it meant that for sure it would be fair and I didn’t have to worry about it,” Madeline Smith added.

The agency also inspected about 2,500 pest control companies and found nearly half were not compliant with the law.

Miller made his pitch this past week to House and Senate committees and is waiting to hear if his old colleagues will come through with more funding.

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