Pickering’s penny pinching good idea for all

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sitting in the audience Wednesday, with a belly filled with Carriage House fried chicken, I couldn’t help but smile as State Auditor Stacy Pickering took the microphone and started speaking.

Now normally, accountants do not typically make dynamic speakers for my ears.

I barely passed Accounting 101, mostly because the class bored me to death, so the thought of being fascinated by the state’s expert accountant didn’t seem intriguing.

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But Pickering, a Jones County native and Mississippi’s state auditor since he was elected in 2007, was preaching to the proverbial choir.

The men and women sitting in the audience were members of the Trace City Kiwanis Club and the Rotary Club of Natchez. The club’s membership are largely consists of members of the business community.

Pickering himself was one of only a handful of elected officials in the room.

Like most political leaders, however, Pickering poked a little fun at himself, with some self-deprecating humor before touting the work of his own staff a bit.

The auditor’s office, he said, did an excellent job in tracking and prosecuting fraud in the billions of dollars that came into the state following Hurricane Katrina.

True accountability in government spending and responsibility for wisely spending taxpayer money are almost novel concepts in the minds of most taxpayers, sadly.

But that homespun logic and honesty, Pickering said, is proving invaluable for Mississippi as it and other states wrestle with how to manage the hundreds of billions of stimulus funds pouring into state coffers.

Pickering hasn’t officially announced plans to run for governor, but his speech in Natchez certainly seems aimed in that direction.

And his message that government needs to be leaner and meaner will gain him lots of votes.

With ever-increasing national debts and state and local governments feeling more and more pinched, one of two things needs to happen.

We either must make serious cuts to public spending or raise taxes.

It’s actually likely that both will come to fruition.

For his part, Pickering says that government can work more efficiently if it actually tries to do so.

He pointed to a decision in his own office to convert from printing and mailing a newsletter to simply e-mailing the newsletter. The result, he said, saved $60,000 a year.

That’s mere pennies in the grand scheme of all government spending. But a few billion pennies saved and we’re soon saving some real money.

It’s a little like the flap over public cell phone usage. It’s pennies in the grand scheme of things, but it’s annoying to taxpayers to feel like they are being used by the very people they elected as their representatives.

As Pickering pointed out Wednesday, the general consensus is that things will get worse for state and local governments before it gets better.

The sooner we can get spending under control and realize that every taxpayer penny saved is a taxpayer penny earned, the better off we’ll be.

It seems to be a lesson that Pickering understands. Let’s hope his message is one that’s contagious at all levels of government.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.