Fitch says Mississippi needs an experienced leader at the helm
Lynn Fitch is the director of the Mississippi State Personnel Board and a Republican candidate for treasurer. She earned her undergraduate degree in marketing and law degree from the University of Mississippi. Fitch was named one of the Mississippi Business Journal’s 50 Leading Business Women and was part of the inaugural class of Leadership in Law. Originally from Holly Springs, she is a Madison resident and has three children.
Q — What is your background and experience relevant to the treasurer’s office?
A — I have been the State Personnel Board director for two years. I served as special assistant attorney general for five years, and clients assigned to me were the Treasurer’s Office, Bond Commission and all finance agencies and economic development agencies. From there I went to be the legal counsel for the House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee and Local and Private Committee for three years. It was a fun time. It was a little different back then, but that’s where all your taxes go through, your bonding bills, your economic development projects. I actually was very involved in the gaming legislation in drafting that. I was there for three years. And then I went into private practice (at Holcomb Dunbar and McGlinchey Stafford) until 2004, when I came back to work for Gov. Barbour at the Department of Employment Security.
It’s interesting now looking back and seeing the path I’ve taken, how it’s all – not knowing where God was going to put me – seeing how it all now intricately works together.
Q — What does Mississippi’s financial state look like, and why do you want to be Treasurer?
A — I think right now we’re certainly in an economic downturn, and I think it’s important that we have an experienced leader for the Treasurer’s Office. At this point we need to have someone who can make those hard choices, make good choices with our dollars. I think that I’m the qualified person to do that. Looking at my expertise, at my experience level, I think it lends me to be the candidate who can start from the beginning on day one and feel very comfortable walking into that position.
Q — What can the Treasurer’s Office do?
A — The treasurer has all these different duties set up by statute, and one of them is to look over the investments of the state and shepherd all the dollars. Certainly the Legislature gleans information from the Treasurer’s Office in regard to the big budget and the income of revenue. But I think the biggest thing our treasurer has so much impact on is our bond indebtedness. There is a state Bond Commission, and it’s comprised of the governor, the treasurer and the attorney general. The Bond Commission can say, “No, those are not good projects,” or, “No, we don’t have the dollars to spend right now on certain infrastructure. No, we’re only going to allow $10 million in bonds to be sold versus $400.” They could hold it where none of it ever got out of the Bond Commission and none of it was ever approved for sale. So I think that’s where it’s extremely important that you have someone who understands the bonding procedures.
The treasurer does a lot of other things, the MPACT program — the Mississippi Prepaid Affordable College Tuition Program (for example). I think that’s a tremendous program that probably needs to continue to grow and develop.
Q — How much debt does Mississippi have now?
A — The scary this is we do have $4 billion of debt right now on our bonds. Everybody’s got their own crisis right now. Right now people are interested in living through the disasters, the tornadoes, the floods, paying the bills, having a job, having a job tomorrow. People aren’t thinking about the whole big picture. We truly do have a big debt on our backs. I explain it’s like our credit card. We have $4 billion on our credit card bill right now on projects that we owe from the bond issues that have been passed in the previous years. We pay roughly $1 million in interest and principal a day on our credit card. That’s 31 percent of our debt ceiling.
Q — Is there a benchmark for getting too high?
A — Our debt ceiling is set constitutionally. There’s not a true benchmark, and right now, all states are pretty much out of balance. We probably historically would like to see that down to 20 percent or less, as far as what we owe. Traditionally, we used to be a pay-as-you-go state, where we weren’t buying so much on credit like we have the last few years.
Q — The Legislature approved more than $400 million in bonds in the 2011 session. How much of that do you think will be issued?
A — This is an election year, and everyone really wants to get their particular projects in. There are a lot of goods things in there involving economic development, job creation, but I don’t know that the Bond Commission will take all that up and incur that much debt on our behalf right now.
Q — What do we do?
A — I think we have to make some really informed decisions on where those dollars need to be spent. If it’s truly a great economic development project, and they’re going to be paying back in or they’re going to be partially paying back the loans that we get them to do new business in the state, then certainly some of that’s more understandable.
We need to take a hard look at our infrastructure that we’re putting out for various universities or projects that maybe could go another year or two before than infrastructure was actually needed to be repaired.
Q — Why is Mississippi’s bond rating good?
A — We balance our budget, we have rainy day funds and we also are very timely in our payments.
Q — How do we stack up to other states in our bond ratings?
A — I can’t answer exactly where we are. We have always stayed up in that upper realm of ratings.
More on Fitch:
Favorite food: Fettuccine alfredo from Amerigo in Jackson
Recently watched movies: “Water for Elephants” and “The King’s Speech”
Favorite books: Nora Roberts books, biographies
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