HottyToddy.com recently had the honor and pleasure to interview Mississippi’s State Treasurer, Lynn Fitch. Here are the Treasurer’s responses to our Q and A session.
HottyToddy.com: To begin with, thank you immensely for taking time out of your hectic schedule to meet with us. For those readers not keeping score, how long have you now served as the state’s Treasurer?
Treasurer Lynn Fitch: I was first elected in 2011 and then honored to be re-elected in 2015. So, I have served as your Treasurer for five and a half years now.
HottyToddy.com: Even the most critical observer would have to give you high marks for your service. What would you rank as your leading accomplishments?
Treasurer Lynn Fitch: The Treasurer’s mission is to secure the public trust, and in just our day-to-day operations, we manage $26 billion in annual transactions and invest over $5 billion for the State. But, some of our stand-out accomplishments include:
- Returning almost $75 million in unclaimed property to people;
- Restructuring the MPACT college savings program to make it cost-neutral to taxpayers and more cost-effective for savers;
- Saving taxpayers nearly $1 billion by proactively managing State debt;
- Establishing a public-private partnership that has brought financial education into 408 schools in 71 Mississippi counties, teaching 66,044 students and training 1,234 teachers, at an average cost of just $1.11 per student; and
- Helping 151 Mississippi employers offer MACS thru payroll deduction to over 31,000 employees, making college more affordable and accessible since families can save for as little as $15 per paycheck.
HottyToddy.com: A recent census projection shows the state in a population decline. If this assessment is accurate, how will the state compensate for lost revenues?
Treasurer Lynn Fitch: Our declining population numbers are troubling, particularly when you factor in recent reports that Millennials – Mississippi’s future – are moving out-of-state. With regard to revenues, it is important to remember that it is rarely a zero-sum game. With the right strategies, you can grow the economy. That means not only strategically looking at spending, taxing, and borrowing as three parts to a complete fiscal plan, but also how other policy decisions impact citizens’ desires to live, work, and raise a family in Mississippi.
HottyToddy.com: In many areas of the state, citizens are having extreme difficulty finding employment. Although this responsibility falls more squarely with the Governor’s Office, what are your thoughts regarding this situation?
Treasurer Lynn Fitch: First, kudos to the Governor for focusing on new economic development and on workforce training to match our workforce skills to new jobs. There have been a lot of new jobs created in Mississippi, and there are over 40,000 jobs right now looking to be filled. We also need to focus on the life skills that go with getting and keeping a job and advancing in a career. That is why I have made financial education for all Mississippi students a high priority as Treasurer.
HottyToddy.com: Speaking of the Governor, rumors are circulating here in Lafayette County that you may have your sights on this office. Your response?
Treasurer Lynn Fitch: I love my job as Treasurer, and I am squarely focused on doing the very best job I can do for Mississippi in that role right now. I have a strong skill set and a heart for service that I want to use to help move Mississippi forward. As I approach the end of my term, I will be looking at the best way to apply my experience in the law, finance, and public service for the best interests of this State.
HottyToddy.com: With Federal funding decreasing coming to Mississippi along with yesterday’s “earmarks,” how does a poor state such as ours, make ends meet without incurring massive state income tax increases?
Treasurer Lynn Fitch: Again, it is about growing the economy. We need to be thinking strategically about how various policies interact in order to draw more jobs – and even more importantly, 21st Century careers – into our State, as well as the steps to creating a high-quality workforce.
HottyToddy.com: Has the time come for Mississippi to adopt a state lottery?
Treasurer Lynn Fitch: I know the Legislature is continuing to review the pros and cons of a state lottery. Approached the right way, it can be a very beneficial revenue generator, as our neighbor states have discovered. People of Mississippi are participating in the lottery, but right now the money they spend is funding education in Louisiana and Arkansas.
HottyToddy.com: With Confederate monuments dominating the national narrative presently, as a native Mississippian, do you have a position in this debate?
Treasurer Lynn Fitch: A people that forgets its past cannot progress into the future. But, the symbols that we choose to revere say something about the future we hope to have. Mississippians are welcoming, inclusive, neighborly people and it is important for us to choose the symbols that demonstrate exactly that to people and businesses who have not yet had a chance to know the true Mississippi. On a case-by-case basis, we need to examine the symbols of our State and determine which ones should be respected in a historical setting and which ones should be put upon a pedestal as representatives of our people.
HottyToddy.com: Ditto for the State flag?
Treasurer Lynn Fitch: The Mississippi flag has become a symbol of division for our State, and it is hurting our ability to draw new business opportunities to our borders and to grow our academic footprint. I have a lot of respect for our flag, but I believe that it is time for us to make it a part of our history. Mississippi has a beautiful new flag this year to celebrate 200 years as a State. It is a flag that can carry us forward together.
HottyToddy.com: From a truly personal perspective, what changes must Mississippi embrace in the next decade to remain vibrant and competitive nationally?
Treasurer Lynn Fitch: Our people are our greatest resource, and we need to invest in them appropriately, particularly through education and job skills. We need to not only be looking to bring new jobs to Mississippi but also to attract 21st Century career opportunities for Mississippians.
HottyToddy.com: Our higher education institutions are increasingly having to rely on out-of-state tuitions to balance their budgets due to declining state subsidies. Do you see any solutions on the immediate horizon to address this situation or should our universities continue to market themselves aggressively nationally to cover these growing costs?
Treasurer Lynn Fitch: Running a State agency, I can attest to the fact that budget cuts have made things challenging. As a proud Ole Miss graduate with an undergraduate degree and law degree, I know what a fantastic education Mississippi schools can provide. So, I would like to turn your question around: Why shouldn’t we be aggressively marketing our schools in state, out-of-state, and everywhere in order to attract the best and brightest students to enrich our educational communities and our State? We have a great education to offer them and a great State we would like them to make their home. The next step, in fact, is to retain those graduates here in Mississippi to be a part of our future.
HottyToddy.com: Financially speaking, what measures can the State of Mississippi undertake to better insulate itself from rising healthcare costs?
Treasurer Lynn Fitch: Recent pushes to improve and expand telemedicine and find alternative ways to deliver preventive care to underserved populations are a great start. But, at least for the short-term, while Congress keeps the insurance industry, the medical profession, and state Medicaid offices wondering what the future of ObamaCare will be, much of what is left to the states is to try to keep a steady hand on rising costs as best we can.
HottyToddy.com: Could you remind us what the state’s financial position was when you took office, compared to now?
Treasurer Lynn Fitch: Budget numbers are actually driven by the Legislature, and the Office of the State Treasurer is not a part of that process. And, we can compare individual stats about where our State has been – unemployment has gone down, the rainy day fund has yo-yoed up and down, spending and debt have gone up. What’s more important to me is that we look at where we are going. There are economic challenges we have to meet, like our depressed revenues, stagnant economic growth, and declining population. But, with leadership and some strategic planning, we can not only meet them but provide national models for growth and achievement. It all comes back to our greatest natural resource – the great people of Mississippi.
HottyToddy.com: There are several municipalities in our state (Madison and Oxford being two of these) where the quality of life is superior, even when making a national comparison. Is it possible for our state’s elected officials (including the Office of Treasurer) to convey what these cities are doing correctly to those that are struggling in the areas of crime; education; job growth; and Economic Development?
Treasurer Lynn Fitch: We do have some particularly shining stars across Mississippi, and I know I tout their accomplishments when I speak out of State or meet with other Treasurers. But, more important than that is how these mayors share their secrets for success with other Mississippi mayors. They say that information is power and it is most powerful when it is shared.
HottyToddy.com: You’ve talked a lot about financial education as Treasurer. Why do you think that is so important for Mississippi?
Treasurer Lynn Fitch: Mississippi has the highest poverty level in the nation, and in every survey, we rank at the bottom in our financial skills. This is not a coincidence. We need to teach Mississippians the critical life skill of managing their money to break the cycle of poverty in our State. I started a public-private partnership to bring financial education into our schools at no cost to schools, teachers, or parents. And, in just three years, we have taught over 66,000 students in schools in 74 Mississippi counties. We have also trained over 1,000 teachers. We can see the results through the benchmark assessments we have done already, with children emerging from the program with a 92% increase in their financial literacy skills.
HottyToddy.com: You’ve also taken on the issue of Mississippi’s gender pay gap, which many people in this very Republican state consider a Democrat issue. Why do you think it’s a problem and why do you think Republicans should support pay equity?
Treasurer Lynn Fitch: First, I do not consider it a Republican or a Democrat issue. Equal pay for equal work is just the right thing to do. Mississippi has a larger pay gap (27%) than the national average. That keeps money about $4 billion out of our economy each year. That drives young women, particularly young, educated women, out of our State and out of our workforce. And, with three-quarters of impoverished children in Mississippi living in households headed by women, it perpetuates the cycle of poverty. So, it is not just the right thing to do for women; it is the right thing to do for our State.
And, for all my Republican friends who see it as partisan, I’d just like to remind them that Republicans wrote the federal equal pay act, wrote Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to protect women from discrimination, and brought and defended women in the landmark Supreme Court case on equal pay. We did it then because it was the right thing to do and that is why we should do it now.
HottyToddy.com: You’ve been critical about State borrowing habits, noting that bond indebtedness for the State has increased $1.3 billion in the last ten years and that every man, woman, and child in Mississippi has a debt burden of over $1.1 billion. Recognizing that the Legislature has the bonding authority, what are you able do to improve these circumstances for the State?
Treasurer Lynn Fitch: We should all be concerned that every man, woman, and child carries $1,847 in State debt on their shoulders right now. The Legislature does have the responsibility of authorizing State borrowing, but as a member of the Bond Commission, I can at least try to provide guidance for how they use the taxpayers’ credit card. Last year, I drafted, and the Bond Commission approved a debt management policy that draws on other states’ best practices. It helps set guidelines for vetting projects to evaluate what is appropriate for borrowing and to determine how we as a State can be strategic in using taxpayer dollars.
HottyToddy.com: You’ve been leading the charge to get more women involved in public service in Mississippi. Why do you think that is important for the future of our State?
Treasurer Lynn Fitch: Mississippi women make up 51.5% of our population, but we make up less than 14% of our Legislature – one of the lowest percentages in the country. Women offer a different perspective in discussions about important public policy issues, just based on our different life experiences. And, we offer a different style of leadership – one that is more collaborative and inclusive – according to studies. Studies show that companies see greater profits and growth when they have brought more women in at leadership levels, at least in part because they can connect better with this large segment of the population. The same can be true in government. Women do not all think the same way. We have different opinions and viewpoints. But that voice needs to be in the mix when it comes to plotting out Mississippi’s future. Mississippi was the last state to ratify the 19th Amendment, waiting until 1984 to approve of women’s right to vote. That sends a certain message to Mississippi women. I want us to send a different kind of message to young Mississippi women today.
Steve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other subjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. Currently, Steve is a highly successful leader in the real estate business who lives in Oxford with his wife Rosie. You can contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 985-852-7745.HERE!