Fitch tries to hold off GOP primary challenge from McRae

Published 4:17 pm Friday, July 31, 2015

JACKSON (AP) — First-term Mississippi Treasurer Lynn Fitch is trying to fend off a Republican primary challenge from a fellow attorney who used to work in the Unclaimed Property division of her office.

David McRae accuses Fitch of wasting taxpayers’ money on office decor and of mismanaging a state-sponsored college savings plan. Making his first run for public office, McRae has called state government “a swamp of corruption and incompetence.”

“We need more accountability and transparency,” McRae told The Associated Press.

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Fitch says she has been a good steward of public money, and she defends her decision to temporarily close new enrollment in a college tuition savings program in the fall of 2012, several months after she took office.

“When I got there, we took a hard look at that plan, and we determined it was not stable,” Fitch said.

The Mississippi Prepaid Affordable College Tuition program reopened in October 2014 with contracts costing 60 percent to 90 percent more than they had before the program paused. The new contract to lock in four years of prepaid tuition at a public university costs $41,584, compared to a previous cost of $23,839.

McRae said temporarily closing MPACT was a bad financial decision, because the program lost two years of gains it could have received through investments.

“An audit was necessary on the program, but the program didn’t need to be shut down while the audit was going,” he said.

Fitch said MPACT needed to be reconfigured because she does not intend to seek tax dollars to cover the financial obligations to people who have bought tuition contracts.

Fitch also said she has saved Mississippi $69 million by restructuring the state bond debt since she took office in 2012.

“We’ll continue to be very proactive on how we manage your debt,” she said Thursday at the Neshoba County Fair.

The only other person running for treasurer this year is a Reform Party candidate, Viola V. McFarland, who has spent little on her own campaign, so the winner of Tuesday’s Republican primary is likely to also win the Nov. 3 general election.