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Auditor: Tough times ahead for legislature

NATCHEZ — Mississippi’s economic recovery isn’t going to be as fast as anyone would like, State Auditor Stacey Pickering said Wednesday.

“Last month we saw a slight increase in state revenue, and that’s a good sign,” he said at a meeting of the Natchez Trace Kiwanis and Rotary clubs Wednesday.

“The issue is, is it going to be sustained?”

Pickering said he believes the state is still in a period of flat, or possibly declining, economic times.

“We are never going to get back to double-digit growth overnight,” he said. “It’s going to take months of slow increases.

“We are still going to see some very tough times ahead for the state Legislature.”

The state’s tough times are amplified by the growing national debt and continued stimulus spending, Pickering said.

With the national debt nearing 100 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product for only the second time in history, Pickering said local governments are being forced to make tough decisions.

He pointed to cuts in his own office — $60,000 in printing costs — and other state agencies that his auditors have helped to find in recent years as examples of what must happen everywhere.

“I believe the answers are there because you and I do it in our homes and in our businesses,” he said.

“My job, and your job, is to make sure (our children) have a better future and more opportunities than we had.”

And that, Pickering said, will come when all Mississippi residents decide to work hard and suffer a bit.

“The New Orleans Saints did not win the Super Bowl because of Drew Brees. They’ve had a great quarterback before.

“The Saints won the NFC, the Super Bowl, because they put in the energy to realize the game was won on the line of scrimmage.

“I’m confident when we as Mississippians decide to block and tackle, get to fundamentals, we are going to succeed. Be willing to sweat, get bruised and get hit.”

Pickering said the state has led the way on a number of fronts already, including spending federal aid dollars in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and tracking stimulus dollars.

Mississippi received more than $2 billion in stimulus funds, he said, with no plan or money from the federal government to track it.

The Mississippi governor and Legislature used a portion of the state’s stimulus money to fund stimulus accounting efforts at the auditor’s office.

Mississippi was also chosen as one of 16 states nationwide to be audited every other month by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

“They say Mississippi has set the standard,” Pickering said. “The USDA called us and asked if we could train their staff.”

Pickering was the invited guest of the Natchez Trace Kiwanis Club. The two clubs hosted a joint meeting.

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