By David Owens
Mississippi State Treasurer Tate Reeves said Wednesday that comments made against his campaign by State Sen. Billy Hewes (R-Gulfport) earlier this week were "unfortunate."
Reeves and Hewes are both seeking the open Lt. Governor position. Current Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant is a Republican candidate for Mississippi Governor.
"It's unfortunate my opponent has resorted to such negative attacks," Reeves said. "People do things you wish they wouldn't do."
Reeves said he believes voters want a "true fiscal conservative as Lt. Governor."
"As treasurer, I have worked to ensure Mississippi is fiscal and sound," he said. "My opponent was in the state legislature for 20 years. During those first 12 1/2 years, the total state debt grew 400 percent. Over the last 7 1/2 years, it's grown less than 20 percent.
"The only different is the last 7 1/2 years, I've served as treasurer and Gov. Barbour has been governor," Reeves added. "There's a big difference between 400 percent over 20 years and less than 20 percent in 7 1/2 years."
Reeves said that during his tenure, the state has taken on $34 billion in new debt but total bond indebtedness has only grown by less than $600 million.
"That growth/increase is due almost entirely to Toyota, Severstal and other job creation efforts of Gov. Barbour and his team," he said.
Reeves was a guest Wednesday of the Laurel Kiwanis Club. During his talk, he discussed the many aspects of his job as State Treasurer.
"The state has approximately $19.5 billion in the budget, including $5 billion in the general fund, and less than $5 billion in special funds," he said. "The other $10 billion is federal money."
Reeves said his job is to invest the excess funds the state receives.
"Our goals are to maximize the investment return and not take on undue risk," he said.
Reeves briefly addressed the Public Employees' Retirement System, recalling a phone call he received from a family member who was worried about the status of retirement in the midst of the recession. He said that even if the economy didn't recover, there would still be enough in the account to pay benefits for 40 years.
"She said "That covers me' and hung up," he said. "We have to think in terms of long-term outlook and what's happening 25 to 50 years from now."
One place where the state is not looking long term is in the Health Care Trust Fund, Reeves said. He said the state received more than $560 million in January 2004 in tobacco settlement money.
"The legislature has been robbing it ever since," he said. "We've collected almost $2 billion and there's almost nothing left."
Reeves said he's also had success with the College Savings Plans of Mississippi and the Unclaimed Property Division.
Reeves said he favors the savings plans because "they're government programs that help people help themselves."
"Affordability and accessibility of a college degree are becoming an issue," he said. "Tuition is rising 7 percent a year, and the price doubles every 10 years.
"Tuition is less than 40 percent of the total cost of a college education," Reeves added. "Those are two programs I hope to continue to improve upon."
Reeves said approximately 35,000 Mississippians are enrolled in the College Savings Plans.
"That's 35,000 kids that have the opportunity to go to college that would not have that opportunity were it not for the plans," he said.
Reeves said the job of state government is not to create jobs, but create an environment where private sector creates jobs. He said improving the education attainment level of citizens is vital to bringing in better and higher paying jobs.
Reeves said he also helped return $75 million in unclaimed property to the people of Mississippi.
"It's good for the local economy because when they receive that money they go out and spend it," he said.
Reeves said the state has "made tremendous progress, but we're not where we ought to be yet."
"California, New York and Illinois are virtually broke," he said. "A lot of other states are in the same position. Thanks to tough decisions we've made and fortuitous leadership, we're not in great shape but we're in far better shape than most."
Reeves noted that he will take a pay cut to be the state's Lt. Governor, but said it's "not about money."
"It's about helping people," he said. "There's something in elected office, you get far more from the gratitude you receive than money you could ever make."