Bill Minor is entitled to his own opinion, but he is not entitled to his own set of facts.
As usual, Mr. Minor has written a column (Feb. 10) that is full of inaccuracies. Please allow me to set the record straight on a few issues he raises.
FACT: None of the total $10 billion from the Katrina Recovery and the Obama stimulus has ever been deposited in any state banks because of the CMIA (Cash Management Improvement Act) agreement between all states and the U.S. Treasury Department. When state agencies expend funds, they contact the federal government to draw down funds for reimbursement. Under this agreement, agencies are required to draw down funds in a short period of time, because interest cannot be earned.
FACT: The state's guaranteed college tuition plan is not in trouble. MPACT currently has more than $250 million in investments and annual tuition payments of less than $18 million. That means that even if the markets stay flat, we have 15 or more years of money available to pay tuition. Despite the recent downturn in the markets, our funding status has increased from 72 percent in 2009 to 75 percent in 2010. We also anticipate that tuition is going to increase. That is factored into our actuarial assumptions as we carefully monitor the performance of this plan each year. As contract sales continue to be steady and the market recovers, the plan is in good shape.
FACT: The PERS (Public Employees' Retirement System) Board does not have the authority to invest in a land trust as Mr. Minor advocates. The board must invest according to statutory requirements, which earned the fund a 14.1 percent return in 2010.
FACT: House and Senate leaders meet frequently with the PERS executive director, employees receive frequent newsletters, there have been numerous news reports, board meetings are open to the public, and the PERS web site contains a wealth of information, all of which provides transparency surrounding the management of PERS.
FACT: The Legislature authorizes debt, and the three-member Bond Commission is responsible for issuance of this debt. Since Governor Barbour and I have been in office, our state has primarily issued debt for infrastructure and economic development projects, which are designed to create job growth and increased revenue for the state. In fact, 53 percent of the debt issued in FY2011 was for economic development, 63 percent in FY2010, and 60 percent in FY2009. The Moody's report to which Mr. Minor refers is the first report where pensions and debt have been combined. Several states, including Mississippi, are reviewing the methodology used in compiling the report. The report appears to have included city and county obligations for which the state is not responsible and omitted the amount employees are paying into the fund from its calculations.
OPINION: As for those "lawmakers and others in government" who give me "high marks for smarts" and "low marks on personality," that's probably because I'm not always going to do what the Democrat leaders of the House tell me to do. I think Mississippians deserve a strong, independent, fiscal conservative as Treasurer. I have been a watchdog for taxpayers, and I will continue to be.
Payday lending bill doesn't halt 'unconscionable' practices
The Bible tells us, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." If I were being exploited, then I would want someone to help me resolve the unfairness.
This is why the Christian Action Commission, a ministry of the Mississippi Baptist Convention, urges our Legislature to reject a proposed bill, HB 455, that enables payday lenders to charge usurious rates to people in need of a loan.
As a concerned citizen, I believe that when it comes to lending, there is a fine balance between preserving the entrepreneurial spirit of business ownership and the exercise of business ethics so as not to place a person in need into deeper hardship.
Regrettably, HB 455 strikes no such balance. It preserves unconscionable rates of 500 percent annual interest and some of the highest fees in the nation ($20 to $21.95 per $100 borrowed). While the bill purports to give borrowers more time to repay and lower fees, in reality the cost to borrowers remains no better than we have today.
The Christian Action Commission urged the Conference Committee to improve the bill by limiting the number of loans to six per year, establishing a database to monitor the loans, requiring that lenders only make one loan at a time, and applying the monthly repayment period to all loans (the current bill applies the monthly repayment period only to some loans and makes this requirement easy to get around).
Unfortunately, the Legislature did not adopt a single one of these common-sense suggestions. The bill does nothing to stop the payday debt trap.
With very little time left in this session to correct the bill, we urge the Legislature to let HB 455 die and resume the debate when there is more time to produce legislation that is more in line with our Judeo-Christian principles.
Christian Action Commission
Automobile insurance mandate violates freedom of movement
What has happened to the Constitution-bearing Republicans of the Mississippi House? They implore that you cannot force a free man to purchase health insurance, but on the other hand you can force him to purchase automobile insurance.
This would restrain freedom of movement. Also, these new laws would only apply to motorists who started driving after they were to become law, without breaking the grandfather clause of the law. And this would revert to 1955 for some drivers. ("That plow won't scour. A house divided against itself cannot stand" - A. Lincoln. "Laws that are unjust are not laws, but criminal acts. - Horace Greeley.)
It reminds me of a time when a native Tippah Countian, Nathan Bedford Forrest, went to Jones County, Laurel, to hang all the men he could apprehend for sitting on their laurels. They would not fight on either side, they were middle of the road, neither hot nor cold. So he decided he would put them on one side or the other. He was the only five star major general of the war on either side and the most feared. Gen. Sherman said that he would send him provisions if it would keep him away from Sherman's Army while he made his 400-miles march to the sea.
Steven K. Fisher