Do Debt and Spending Matter in Mississippi Too?

Saying “no” to more government debt and spending dominates Washington politics, particularly among Republicans. This position certainly played a key role in Mississippi’s congressional elections last year when Republicans Steven Palazzo and Alan Nunnelee overthrew Democratic incumbents Gene Taylor and Travis Childers.

While spending has slowed in Mississippi, debt has been growing rapidly.

So, does “no” matter in this year’s primaries?

Here’s what Republican candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor say on their web sites.

Phil Bryant has published an impressive 15-page plan stating his positions on how to improve Mississippi. In it he directly addresses debt and spending.

“Focus on debt control…pay down our bond debts,” he says. “Ensure that spending doesn’t spiral out of control.”

Bryant also says he favors reducing education costs – the largest part of state spending – by “consolidating some of their back-office, administrative work, like procurement and payroll, in an Office of Shared Services.”

Opponent Dave Dennis has published clear positions on 23 issues but does not address debt. He does mention spending in his position on taxes, saying, “Cutting spending and increasing government efficiencies is the answer, not tax increases.”

On schools, Dennis says, “We need targeted school district consolidation to eliminate duplicative overhead.”

Sites for James Broadwater, Ron Williams, and Hudson Holliday don’t address debt. Williams will oppose “excessive spending” by personally reviewing state contracts.

Neither Tate Reeves nor Billy Hewes has published detailed issue statements.

On his site Hewes does not address debt. On spending he says as a long-time state senator he has worked to “adopt Mississippi’s Rainy Day Fund and hold the line on excessive spending” and, ironically, “approve the largest increases in education funding in our state’s history.”

Reeves’ site addresses both debt and spending. It says as State Treasurer he has “protected taxpayers by getting our debt burden under control; revamping borrowing practices to reduce interest payments and save millions; cutting and prioritizing spending to focus on education and public safety.”

Hewes has launched problematic attack ads against Reeves over his debt management.

Here are two relevant factoids. First, only the Legislature can create bond debt. The roles of the State Treasurer and Bond Commission are to issue and administer authorized debt in accordance with law. Second, the fastest rising debt in Mississippi has been unfunded state retirement liabilities, now $14.7 billion. In 1999, Hewes was among legislators who voted to greatly expand spending for benefits but failed to put in place revenues to pay for them. As a result Reeves and the retirement board have had to increase contribution rates.

While none of the major Republican candidates have said a clear “no” to more debt and spending, some may be closer to “no” than others.

Are primary voters paying attention?

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