News Column

Treasurer Lynn Fitch sees financial good times ahead for Mississippi

June 19, 2014

By Paul Hampton, The Sun Herald



June 19--GULFPORT -- Mississippi's bond debt amounts to $1,746 for every man, woman and child, but state Treasurer Lynn Fitch said that will only go down in the future.

Fitch talked to the Sun Herald on Wednesday about things her office is doing to ensure the state is a good steward of taxpayer money. She said officials just met with financial ratings agencies this month to make a case for a good bond rating.

She said she expects it to stay at AA, though the goal is to someday get to AAA. But even a AA rating will help in the fall when the state sells bonds to finance projects, she said.

"(The debt) is coming down," she said. "If you think back in the '80s, the way of the country and the trend was bonding. That's how you got projects done.

Smarter spending

"We've all cut back, tightened our belts, not doing (bond projects), only looking at what we believe are very good, sustainable uses of the dollar."

She said the Bond Commission, composed of Gov. Phil Bryant, Attorney General Jim Hood and herself, will review all projects the Legislature plans to pay for with bonds before the bonds are sold.

She said three things working in the state's favor for a good rating are the fact it didn't use any one-time money -- settlement fees from the attorney general for example -- in its budget; it has $409 million in its rainy-day fund, where that one-time money now goes; and it had a debt-affordability study that shows the state has a long-range plan for its finances.

Revising old plans

She also said a new phase of the Mississippi Prepaid Affordable College Tuition Plan will begin in the fall. Fitch shut down the original MPACT program when it became clear it was rolling up unsustainable debt. That debt has dropped from $120 million to $82 million, she said, and none of the money collected in the new plan, which is designed to pay its own way, will be used for the phase 1 debt.

She said another good option for saving for college is the Mississippi Affordable College Savings plan, which gives a tax deduction for money saved for college expenses, including tuition, room and board and other expenses.

"If you invest in a child," she said. "That child is seven times more likely to stay in school."

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(c)2014 The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.)

Visit The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.) at www.sunherald.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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Source: Sun Herald (Biloxi, MS)


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