Finance Hearings Today at the Capitol Building on Bonding and Related Issues:
Today the Senate Finance Committee will be holding a series of hearings on the issue of bonding in the State of Mississippi. There are many aspects of bonding that many of our members are interested in concerning the level and nature of bonding. We will hear from a host of state leaders (appointed and elected) who deal daily in the issue of state indebtedness. These include the Department of Finance and Administration, the State Treasurer, members of the State Home Corp. and State Business Finance Corp., the Director of PERS, members of the MDA and IHL groups.
We are interested in educating ourselves and the public about the level of bonding, the purposes for which the state bonds (or borrows) money and the process by which those bonds are ultimately sold on behalf of the State of Mississippi. We all know that times are touch economically for everyone and we want to make sure that the taxpayer is protected in this process of borrowing money. There are surely efficiencies that can be found and built into the process of bonding. Transparency has been a theme that we have applied this term to the Attorney General’s Sunshine Legislation and it is something that the Lieutenant Governor and I thinks should be applied to this area of state government as well.
I have long fought for reform both in our elections system with Voter ID and in the operations of contracts at the Attorney General’s Office with Sunshine Legislation and believe that state bonding is another area where sunlight and transparency can be a positive thing for the taxpayers. Open bid processes and billable hours for certain work involved in the bonding process are certainly areas of interest to us in the Senate Finance Committee. We want to study the historical use of bonds by our State Government and see if there are more efficient uses of those monies perhaps through the Appropriations process for some of these items recently bonded. To this end we will be hearing from some agencies later tomorrow who traditionally request bonds from the State and see at what level they are requesting bonds for this coming session.
The taxpayers understand that to borrow money on the state level requires interest payments just like you and I pay when we take out personal loans. Those monies must be appropriated each year and to the extent we’re making interest payments to lenders, those are dollars that can’t be used to pay teachers, build roads, or patch roofs at our Community Colleges or Universities. When we spend hundreds of millions of dollars in interest payments each year, we have to be careful about additional bonding and make sure that projects which are bonded are worthy of their cost.
Former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was famous for saying that when we have a debt problem, we can’t simply order a new checkbook to fix it. Money that government spends isn’t free – it comes from the taxpayers and we should always take that into consideration when spending (or obligating through bonds) the taxpayers’ money. Inflation is a real concern and households in Mississippi can see and feel that when they buy a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk or fill up at the gas pump. We must be cognizant of balanced budgets and a huge part of that is not over-obligating the taxpayers with large loads of debt. Today we will begin the process of studying this system so we can all make informed decisions about bonding and begin the important work of reforming our system to maximize the efficiencies and transparency within that system. The hearings begin at 1:00 p.m. today, November 8, in Room 216 of the State Capitol Building and begin again tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. on November 9, 2012. We invite anyone interested to come and attend.
Sen Joey Fillingane