Hewes and Reeves spar over Mississippi bond debt

By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press

JACKSON — State Sen. Billy Hewes said Monday that Treasurer Tate Reeves is running a “misleading” campaign ad about Mississippi’s bond debt in their race for lieutenant governor.

Hewes is calling on Reeves to pull the ad off the air. Reeves’ campaign manager, Justin Brasell, stands by the ad and said that Hewes, as a state senator for nearly 20 years, has helped increase the state’s debt.

Hewes and Reeves face off in the Aug. 2 Republican primary and the winner is expected to hold the job for the four-year term that starts in January. No Democrat is running for the open seat. The Nov. 8 general election ballot will have the Republican nominee and the Reform Party’s Tracella Lou O’Hara Hill, who has shown few signs of campaigning.

The state issues bonds as long-term debt to fund economic development projects or public property improvements. Bonds require two steps of approval — first by the Legislature, then by the three-member Bond Commission. The commission is made up of the governor, the attorney general and the treasurer, or a staff member may vote in their place if they’re absent.

Hewes said that over the past 7½ years, Reeves has voted more than 400 times to issue bonds that had been approved by the Legislature. Hewes said Reeves voted only three times to reject bond proposals. Bond Commission records show that in all three cases, the bonds were approved by the other two commission members.

“My opponent is issuing broad statements about his fiscal conservatism, yet he is short on details,” Hewes said during a news conference Monday at the state Capitol. “I’m calling on my opponent to pull his false and misleading ad which lays our bond debt at the foot of the Legislature while he claims to have been a watchdog for the taxpayers of Mississippi.”

Hewes said that as a senator, he has probably voted for most of the projects Reeves later approved on the Bond Commission. Reeves said Hewes voted for all of them.

“The difference is that I’m not running ads pretending that I didn’t,” Hewes said.

In the ad, Reeves talks about saying no to people who want the state to borrow money. “In Mississippi, our Legislature has gotten into a habit of borrowing money for things that ought to be funded in the annual budget,” Reeves says. “We’ve got to do something about that. We have to get out of that cycle.”

Reeves campaign manager Justin Brasell said that Mississippi’s bond debt grew at a faster rate before Reeves became treasurer than it has since he took office. Reeves said in a news release that he has managed the state’s debt to reduce interest costs and save the state millions of dollars.

“After 20 years in the legislature and hundreds of votes for more spending and billions more in debt, it’s heart-warming to know that Sen. Hewes has now finally realized with 50 days to go in this campaign that we need to reduce our debt burden,” Reeves said.

Records from the Bond Commission show that in February 2009, Reeves voted against $3.5 million for economic projects because a cost-benefit analysis hadn’t been done. In July 2009, he voted against $2 million to fund a minority loan program for agriculture. In April 2011, Reeves voted against $193 million the Mississippi Development Authority requested to help fund job-creation programs that are worth at least $30 million.