Treasurer offers glimpse of state’s financial picture

Published 5:00 am Friday, April 11, 2008

Difficult and uncertain economic conditions in the world, theUnited States and Mississippi are creating unique challenges forofficials as they map out future plans, State Treasurer Tate Reevessaid Wednesday.

“Right now is probably the hardest time to be treasurer of anystate,” Reeves said while speaking to the Brookhaven KiwanisClub.

Reeves, in his second term in office, said the national creditcrisis represents a “pretty significant” challenge to the waystates and others do business. The state treasurer went on todiscuss several positive as well as negative aspects of the state’seconomic picture.

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Reeves said citizens have seen “outstanding” growth, relative toother states, in terms of per-capita income. He said Mississippi’slevel is now 75 to 80 percent of the national average.

“We’ve got to continue to close that gap,” Reeves said.

Also, in spite of and in some cases because of Hurricane Katrinain 2005, the state growth over the three years has been strong,Reeves said. He cited rates of 7 percent, 10 percent and 13percent.

However, Reeves said current year growth is estimated at only 3percent and next year’s at 2 percent.

He said state sales tax collections this year are basically flatcompared to last year, while personal income is up due to theaddition of more jobs and people making more money. Also, from acorporate income tax standpoint, he said corporations seem to bedoing well in the state.

Efforts to rein in the state’s indebtedness have paid off,Reeves said.

Reeves said the state’s debt had grown from $500 million in 1990to $3.2 billion when he first took office in 2003. In 2003, $360million of state revenue went toward debt service.

In December, Reeves said the state percentage going to debtservice was 6.5 percent. He called that a “majoraccomplishment.”

Reeves commented that when lawmakers talk about fundingeducation first, that is not really the case in actuality. He saidthat is because of the debt picture.

“The reality is the first check we write every year is to ourcreditors,” Reeves said.

In encouraging efforts to further reduce indebtedness, Reevessaid every dollar spent on debt service is one dollar that doesn’tgo to education, public safety or other vital state services.

Reeves said other challenges lie ahead.

Medicaid’s needing $90 to $100 million to complete this fiscalyear is preventing lawmakers from making more progress on preparingnext year’s budget, Reeves said. He said a long-term fundingsolution for Medicaid needs to be found.

Among goals for the future, Reeves discussed efforts to bettereducate citizens about personal financial matters. He saidMississippi is similar to many other states in that regard.

“We really are not doing a good job of financial education,”Reeves said.

Reeves mentioned efforts to work with other states to developways to educate people and help them to not make poor financialdecisions. He said getting projects like that implemented aredifficult because of the years it takes to see results.