Call state Treasurer Lynn Fitch a specialist in change management.
Specifically, in addition to being the state’s banker, Fitch takes on the role of financial educator for the citizens of Mississippi, industry leaders and policymakers alike. That includes educating people on the potential pitfalls of using payday loans and teaching the the importance of saving and budgeting to high school students.
At Mississippi Today’s first Coffee & Conversation at Millsaps College’s Else School of Management on Thursday, Fitch said she’s working to change the financial culture in a state that leads the nation in poverty and is coming back from the Great Recession slower than hoped for.
“Recovering has been hard for Mississippi, which has kept us more flatlined than a lot of states,” Fitch said. “The economy just isn’t making that jump start that it needs to.”
Fitch outlined several polices that she believes can help deliver a jolt. For starters, Fitch believes Mississippi could benefit from a constitutional amendment that requires the state to pass a balanced budget. State statute requires the budget to be balanced, but there is no constitutional requirement that the spending plan balance. Her office is working on a plan to launch an effort to put the issue on the ballot in an upcoming election.
Additionally, Fitch, who serves on the State Bond Commission with the governor and attorney general, said the commission should take a hard look at the $300 million in projects that the Legislature approved last session. Mississippians already have $5 billion in general-obligation debt.
“Now we’re going to vet all projects,” she said. “We want to be very cautious (in) peeling back the layers of making sure these are good projects.”
As Mississippi has struggled with revenues that failed to meet projections, prompting several rounds of budget cuts and a revision to address a $56 million accounting error, Fitch stressed the importance of having accurate budget numbers and moving away from relying on one-time funding for expenses that recur every year.
“We can’t plan our future on one-time money and put programs out there and we can’t fund them,” she said.