- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

Jan. 18

Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss., on mounting evidence that Mississippi needs more public accountability:

Public officials have provided more evidence that state government needs a thorough auditing of its finances on an annual basis and of its performance on a regular basis.

Recently, State Auditor Stacey Pickering released a performance audit of the Mississippi Department of Public Safety (online at www.osa.ms.gov/documents/performance/DPS_final-01_15_2014.pdf).

In dueling press releases, here’s how the results of that audit were interpreted.

From the Department of Public Safety: “For the first time in the 75-year history of the Mississippi Highway Patrol, Public Safety Commissioner Albert Santa Cruz requested the state auditor to conduct a multiyear performance audit of the Department of Public Safety. The audit, from fiscal year 2009 to the present, was delivered today and shows DPS has been in compliance with state laws and regulations.

“‘In an effort toward transparency, we wanted an audit to review our spending practices,’ Public Safety Commissioner Santa Cruz said. ‘We were confident we were adhering to proper procedures and were not afraid of scrutiny. The audit shows we have been and are compliant.’”

From Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves: “Today State Auditor Stacey Pickering released the Department of Audit’s findings regarding the Department of Public Safety’s financial management of the more than $100 million in taxpayer funds it spends each fiscal year. The review, which was requested by DPS, found numerous serious shortfalls that confirm complaints lodged against the agency by legislative leaders.

Those are serious differences of opinion.

What got this started and keeps it going is a debate over how the Department of Public Safety operates the highway patrol.

The point here is not to take either side in that debate.

What strikes us is how a state agency with as high a profile as the Department of Public Safety could exist for 75 years without the benefit of a performance audit every quarter of a century or so.

It does undergo a regular financial audit.

Both types of audits would be invaluable resources for legislators as they appropriate the state’s limited resources.




Jan. 17

The Commercial Dispatch, Columbus, Miss., on time for railroad to do the right thing:

Back in August, officials from the Mississippi Department of Transportation, Kansas City Southern Railway and the Columbus City Council held a public hearing to discuss a proposal to close six Southside railroad crossing while adding safety upgrades to other crossings.

It was a lively debate, as Southside residents crammed into the municipal complex to express their opinion on the proposal. Some supported the idea. Others were adamantly opposed.

In the end, the council decided to drop the matter altogether.

During the course of that hearing, however, Southside resident Andrea Sanders made a point that Allen Pepper, who represented the railroad at the meeting, seemed unable to answer and provide an insight into how the company views its responsibility for the tracks that run through the city.

In their pitch, the officials had presented the proposal as an opportunity to improve safety along that stretch of the railroad.

Sanders was disturbed by that argument.

“I just don’t understand why we’re using the issue of safety to benefit you when safety is something we should all have anyway,” Sanders said, “That’s putting a carrot in front of us and saying, ‘Lo and behold, if there’s anything that happens it’ll be on our heads,’ and that’s just wrong.”

The plan died, but Sanders’ question still lingers.

Earlier this month, Ward 1 councilman Gene Taylor asked Southside residents to let him know if the railroad crossings in the area were in such a state of disrepair as to create a hazard. Taylor said he has had dozens of complaints since making that inquiry.

When contacted about those problems, the railroad said through a prepared statement it is waiting for the city to contact them.

We are dismayed by this attitude.

Let us be very clear on this point. It is the railroad’s responsibility to maintain its rail lines. That burden doesn’t fall on the city, the state or residents of Columbus.

Keeping those crossings safe and in good working order is something the railroad should do of its own volition. It should be considered a cost of doing business.

The citizens of Columbus should not have to be beggars.




Jan. 21

Northeast Mississippi Journal, Tupelo, Miss., on MPACT’s status remains uncertain:

The strong hope many parents and guardians placed in the Mississippi Prepaid Affordable College Tuition plan remains shaken as the college tuition plan guaranteeing the cost of tuition at today’s prices for a future date remains in limbo.

MPACT was conceived, as were dozens of similar plans in other states, as a more affordable way for parents and others to afford tuition for their children, a cost that has risen steadily and inexorably for many years.

MPACT had bipartisan support, and it attracted tuition investors in many different income ranges. Its flexibility for payment was an attractive draw, and it was seemingly working without missing a beat until the fall of 2012, when its governing board and Mississippi Treasurer Lynn Fitch suspended enrollment because questions arose about its viability for the long term.

Fitch has announced a board meeting for Jan. 27 to further discuss MPACT’s future and what can or must be done to assure its longevity.

The outlook is bleak without an infusion of cash from the state.

The projections place insolvency in the early 2020s, less than decade away, with a shortfall of $82 million. If the plan is not reopened it will face a $142 million shortfall.

Among the 22,000 enrollees still in the program is Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, whose three children would be beneficiaries of the tuition guarantee.

Some legislators want to provide greater investment flexibility for the program, not because it would fix the problem, but to help it earn more.

All the enrollees will receive the full amount due because MPACT is backed by the full faith and credit of the state, but a more orderly process than going bellyup would be preferable.

The money invested in MPACT isn’t partisan; it’s the hard-earned money of parents, grandparents, friends and others who saw a way of reducing projected college costs with a set tuition amount based on the time of enrollment.

If no clear way is found to make MPACT work on a financially sound basis then doing what’s necessary to guarantee the commitments made to enrollees should be completed and the fund abolished, as has been the case in many other states.





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