Q&A: Connie Moran, mayor, Ocean Springs

A different perspective

by Amy McCullough

Published: July 3,2011

Tags: Connie Moran, elections, Ocean Springs, Q&A, Treasurer

Moran says running for state treasurer more than the budget

Connie Moran, mayor of Ocean Springs/Democratic candidate for state treasurer, has a degree in finance and international economics from Georgetown University. She did graduate work as a Fulbright scholar at the Institute of World Economics in Kiel, Germany, and has worked as an economist at the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. She spent six years as head of the Mississippi Development Authority’s European office. Moran has one daughter.

Q — What makes you a unique candidate for state treasurer?
A —
I bring a very different perspective to the Treasurer’s Office than a CPA would. To me it’s more than just balancing the budget and the numbers. It’s about people and their jobs and our homes and how we revitalize our communities.

I think what I can bring to the table is my background in economic development and skills in job recruitment. In these tough economic times, what Mississippi really needs is more job creation and better fiscal management. I worked for the State of Mississippi on the international level, also county, state and city level. I ran the European office for the (Mississippi Development Authority) for six years and thereafter was county economic development director here in Jackson County. I had my own marketing consulting firm as an economist and advisor to utility districts, other cities, housing development and even a railroad before I ran for mayor in 2005, and was elected six weeks before Katrina. I have run a city here with many different departments, over 200 employees and a very complicated budget process. I know how to make the hard choices. Last year we cut our general fund by 15 percent, and in our latest bond issue, we had a Moody’s rating of “AA.” That’s the highest rating of any municipality on the Coast.

I can bring a steady hand in difficult times. With tight budgets and looming debt, we need someone who can make those hard choices. I was mayor when we had the worst natural disaster, Hurricane Katrina, hit our state. I know a great deal about the recovery process and how to rebuild in a better way. In essence, I’ve been in economic development and oversight of financial responsibility for over 20 years.

Q — The treasurer serves as one of three members of the state Bond Commission, which chooses what Legislature-approved bonds should be issued. For what types of projects would you favor incurring more state debt?
A —
My responsibility (for MDA) was to cover all of Europe from the Frankfurt office recruiting new industry to the state and also to identify agents and distributors for Mississippi exporters. We really worked on the Mercedes plant, which unfortunately went to Alabama. At that time I think that was our wake-up call for Mississippi. Now we have the Nissan plant and Toyota coming in. We’re really happy to be competitive — to pass the economic incentive packages that lured those types of companies. I am about job creation. I do think that’s important, and I would support loans backed by bond proceeds in order to create those jobs.

I would also be in favor of projects such as the state historical museum or the civil rights museum. I think those are important draws for tourism and to preserve our heritage. I know those are coming up before the Bond Commission.

But so are a lot of other projects. The $400 million in bonding that the Legislature has cast (in its most recent bond bill) — I would take a hard look at that. Let’s not build something immediately that can possibly be put off for a year or two when economic times rebound.

For example, I would not be in favor of building state offices outside of Jackson. Rather than build state offices, I would rather see the state look at existing buildings and see if we couldn’t lease properties that are already in town. State offices rob the city of their tax base. So I’m not a proponent of sprawl. It’s important that your capital city remain vibrant. I’m in favor of redevelopment efforts.

Q — How do you see the state treasurer being involved in economic development?
A —
The treasurer does participate in the economic development strategy process. I want to be part of that recruitment team and partner with MDA — that’s where I worked before for the state — and do whatever we can to bring in not only bring new industry, but also to encourage existing business, and particularly small businesses, and make sure our small businesses have equal access to state contracts and preferable terms.

Q — You favor the Treasurer’s Office creating short-term loans for state agencies?
A —
There ought to be some mechanism by which the Treasurer’s Office can give some short-term borrowing opportunities rather than the one great big bond bill in order to even out some of those troughs and peaks in the business cycle. There are some innovative techniques that the Treasurer’s Office can introduce. The treasurer can do some short-term borrowing for the agencies, rather than them laying off people to get through the hard times.

Q — What would you do regarding the MPACT (Mississippi Prepaid Affordable College Tuition) plan that is also administered by the Treasurer’s Office?
A —
Another issue that’s close to my heart is education, and whatever the Treasurer’s Office could do to ramp up the MPACT fund college savings plan – I would like to tirelessly help Mississippi to invest in our children’s future by streamlining the payroll deduction possibilities for state employees and also make it easier for friends and extended family to contribute to a child’s future. Right now, it’s been under-promoted. It’s been underutilized by employees and really not offered by other employers. So I would work hard to grow that base. That’s the main problem with it waning somewhat – not getting enough return.

Q — What efficiency measures could be implemented in state operations?
A —
In seven of the past eight years, the Revenue Estimating Committee that sets the budget for the future has predicted a rate of growth far greater than the actual rate of growth. That puts the Legislature in a bind. At the end of the year, they have to cut and slash. We could do a better job of predicting our budget growth so that we don’t end up in a frenzy every year so we don’t lay people off.

We could probably share a lot of resources, combine some of our agencies. IT could be shared. Some equipment could be shared. HR resources could be shared. Plus, I don’t know how diligent the state has been to explore energy efficiency in our buildings. Can we convert some of our vehicles from diesel to natural gas? Have we looked at replacing some of our bulbs with LED that utilizes just a fraction of energy? In Jackson I notice entire floors of buildings are still lit at night.

Q — What about the Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi (PERS) unfunded liability?
A —
We have a very good pension plan, but if you don’t fund it, it’ll start to erode its credibility and integrity. That would be a high priority of mine. Again, it might take some change in some of the legislation and the priorities in how to fund that. I would have to work closely with the finance committees in the Legislature … but definitely I would be committed to working with the PERS board. I’m part of (the system) myself.

More on Moran:
Favorite Food:
Crab meat-stuffed flounder at Jocelyn’s in Ocean Springs
Most recently watched movie: “Super 8”
Most recently read book: “The Fall of the House of Zeus” by Curtis Wilkie

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