- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 20, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi Treasurer Lynn Fitch is objecting to a bill passed by lawmakers to borrow money for construction projects, saying some of the projects are imprudent and she’s worried about the state taking on too much debt.

Lawmakers passed a bill to borrow $250 million this year and at least $50 million in future years.

In a letter this week, Fitch said she wants the three-member state Bond Commission, including herself, Gov. Phil Bryant and Attorney General Jim Hood, to scrutinize projects individually. Fitch wrote the letter to House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves saying some projects should be rejected. All three are Republicans.

“My staff and I went through this bill section-by-section and were shocked to see so many items included that could not meet even the basic standards for issuing bonds,” Fitch wrote.

She wrote that bonds must be for specific projects under IRS rules, and not just general allotments for infrastructure for cities and counties. About $1 million of the bond bill appears allocated for general infrastructure spending in specific areas.

Fitch also wrote that a $100,000 allocation for the Jackson Police Department appeared to be aimed at paying salaries, not covering capital expenses. She wrote that she’s concerned that Mississippi’s overall public debt load is too high, and noted lawmakers also agreed earlier this year to borrow $263 million to lure Continental AG to build a tire plant near Clinton.

Republican leaders of the House and Senate committees that borrow money say the amount is prudent because Mississippi is paying off large amounts of bond debt soon. They also say some horse-trading is necessary to win votes for overall borrowing.

“While it may be fun to nitpick a $50,000 project here or there that she or I may not have authorized has it been up to us, on the whole, these are extraordinarily worthy projects,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, said he was confident that all the projects could be explained to Fitch’s satisfaction.

“This is the way you wind up often getting a bill passed that one chamber doesn’t like,” Smith said.

Bryant did not respond to a request for comment. Hood said he’d consider the request.

“I am sympathetic to the treasurer’s points and will fulfill my duty as a member of the Bond Commission to approve only those bonds which are both legal and prudent,” the Democratic attorney general said in a statement.


Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy. Read his work at https://bigstory.ap.org/author/jeff-amy.

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