/Bond commission could nix some projects

Bond commission could nix some projects

Lynn Fitch, the state treasurer, stated that it would be their duty to examine these projects individually rather than looking at them as a whole. Fitch was one of the most vocal critics of the bills passed by lawmakers in the final hours of the legislative session. Fitch’s letter to the Lieutenant Governor. Fitch sent a letter to Speaker Philip Gunn. This sparked a dispute between Fitch and Reeves, and left uncertain the fate of several of the 600-page projects. Fitch compared the bond bill to a kind of “Christmas-tree-collection of earmarked goodies” that led fiscal conservatives to end the longstanding practice of congressional earmarks when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010. “When the state issues bonds we are obligating Mississippi taxpayers to repay that debt both today and tomorrow.” Fitch wrote that the Legislature should carefully review every project it approves. “Too many of the projects in this bill fail even to meet the basic tests for the state should, and even can be issuing bonds,” Fitch stated in her letter. Fitch also requested clarity about projects she feels might not qualify for tax-exempt status according to Internal Revenue Service rules for government bonds. Fitch points out that the bill contains $100,000 for the “Jackson Police Service,” but doesn’t specify how this money would be used. We cannot bond to pay salaries or routine operating expenses as required by Section 43(2) relating to Jackson Police Department. Fitch states that we don’t borrow on the taxpayers’ credit card to pay for annual, recurring expenses. The bill includes $102 million in funding for colleges and universities over 2 years, $45 millions for Ingalls Shipbuilding, which is located at the state shipyard, $20million for the Mississippi Coliseum and state fairgrounds, $16.6 million to support the Civil Rights Museum and Museum of Mississippi History currently under construction in Jackson and $13 million to repair state buildings. Reeves asked Fitch about his motivations for sending the letter the day after the session was over. He also suggested that the letter could have been a prelude to the next state election cycle. Reeves stated April 21 that she believes we are at a point where many people are considering running for public office in 2019. So everybody is trying to get attention. Fitch said that she had nothing to add to Reeves’ response except that “I have a task to do and this what I’m doing.” Fitch also raised the issue of paying $111 million for debt service. Fitch stated that even if special funds were swept into general fund, her office could only put $80 million towards debt service. This leaves a $31,000,000 shortfall, which would require either a deficit appropriation, or dip into the state’s rainy-day account. Fitch’s worries might be alleviated by Reeves telling the Sun-Herald that putting off some bonds issuing until next year. “When I was state treasurer my bond commission chose, much to the dismay of Democrats in the House of Representatives, not to issue bonds that the Legislature had approved. Reeves stated last week that if that’s the decision of the bond commission, it’s their prerogative. Fitch stated that she would seek input from the state’s bond counsel, financial advisor and some bond recipients and would share this information with other bond commissioners. The state bond commission is composed of the governor, state treasurer and attorney general. No meeting date has been set. Gov. Bryant’s communications department did not respond immediately to requests for comment. In a statement to Mississippi Today Attorney General Jim Hood stated that he was sympathetic to the Treasurer and would fulfill his duty as a member to approve only legal and prudent bonds. Contributing: Adam Ganucheau. Support this work by making a regular donation today to celebrate our Spring Member Drive. This will allow us to continue important work such as this story. Our reporters give a human face to policy’s impact on everyday Mississippians by listening more closely and understanding their communities. To ensure that our work is aligned with the priorities and needs of Mississippians, we are listening to you. Click the button below to let us know what you think. Republish this Story