State treasurer visits Natchez, talks bondsPublished 12:12am Thursday, May 2, 2013
NATCHEZ — Mississippi State Treasurer Lynn Fitch was in Natchez Wednesday to answer what she says is the most common question she is asked.
“People always ask me, ‘What does the state treasurer do?’” Fitch told a group of local and state officials and businesspeople at a Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Eola Hotel.
The answer, Fitch said, is a variety of things, including moving approximately $18 billion through the state bank each year.
“That even shocked me,” she said. “At any given time, we’re moving about $5 million daily, at least.”
The state treasurer’s office pays all the bills for the state, Fitch said. All the money runs through Fitch’s office before it is paid out, she said.
Those bills, Fitch said, include the $4 billion in debt service the State of Mississippi owes.
“That’s pretty common for a state our size,” she said. “We have a good credit rating.
The state will issue another $300 million in bonds this year, Fitch said.
“Those will be used for infrastructure, higher education or whatever the needs are,” she said.
Fitch sits on the Mississippi State Bond Commission with Governor Phil Bryan and Attorney General Jim Hood. Fitch said she was a bond lawyer in her private practice, so she is familiar with the bond process.
The state recently shifted $300 million in variable-rate debt to fixed-rate debt, Fitch said.
“It was a complex process, but we (will be) able to save $30 million of your money over the next two years,” she said.
Fitch gave the audience a rundown of some of the programs the treasurer’s office administers, including the unclaimed property division and state college savings plans.
The unclaimed property division has been putting unclaimed funds back into Mississippi residents’ pockets, Fitch said.
When utility deposits, uncashed paychecks, bonds and other funds remain unclaimed for five years, the money is turned over to the state to hold until it is claimed by its rightful owner, Fitch said.
When Fitch took office last year, she said she set up a call center for the unclaimed property division.
“We had $10,000 calls in the first week,” she said.
Fitch said her office has been giving back money to cities, counties, charities, individuals and companies.
Some amounts are small, Fitch said, but are still impacting the state economy.
“Regardless of (whether) it’s a big check or a small check, it’s making an impact,” she said.
Fitch encouraged those in attendance at the luncheon to visit the treasurer’s website to search their names through the state’s unclaimed property database.
“Every two tables in here somebody is going to have some money or you’re going to know somebody who has money waiting,” Fitch said.
The college savings plans administered through Fitch’s office are the 529 plan and the Mississippi Prepaid Affordable College Tuition Plan.
The MPACT plan is currently undergoing an audit, Fitch said, so the state can determine if the 15-year-old plan is sustainable.
A meeting Monday about the audit gave some good news about MPACT, Fitch said.
“I think we will probably be able to open that plan again,” Fitch said. “It may not look exactly like it does now.”
Fitch also briefed the audience on the financial literacy program that she supported, but that plan did not make it into the education bill passed by the Legislature.
Fitch said the bill passed unanimously in the House and said she will continue to push for its passage into law.
The bill would require high school sophomores, juniors and seniors to take a semester-long financial education class and pass it to graduate. Four other states have similar laws that Fitch said greatly benefit the states’ children on how to be financially responsible.
“Wouldn’t it be great to be No. 5 and not No. 50, to be on the cutting edge?” she said.
Fitch said 16 months after taking office, some days she still can’t believe her name is on the door. Fitch said she learned the quality of people in Mississippi from campaigning.
“No matter where you are, we have great people in our state … great people that believe in our state and want to continue to see our state grow,” she said.