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State auditor visits Columbus

 

Kathy Read talks with Mississippi Auditor Stacey Pickering after he spoke to Columbus Rotarians at Lion Hills Center Tuesday.

Kathy Read talks with Mississippi Auditor Stacey Pickering after he spoke to Columbus Rotarians at Lion Hills Center Tuesday. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff

 

Isabelle Altman

 

 

Mississippi Auditor Stacey Pickering readily admits state finances can make a boring conversation, but he still takes seriously the task of education citizens about how the numbers work. 

 

Pickering, first elected in 2011, brought that task to a joint meeting of Columbus Rotary Club and Lowndes County Republican Women Tuesday at Lion Hills Center, where he specifically discussed the state's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. 

 

"How do we spend our money?" Pickering said. "These are important things for us all to look at and know, and as auditor, it's my job to help educate our policy makers and hopefully educate you a little bit today of how we spend our money." 

 

His talk about finances did not come without a handful of "boring accountant" jokes.  

 

"(The report) is about three inches thick," he said. "It will hold a door open. ... It is a great insomnia cure." 

 

Still, he argued, it's important to look at because by looking at state finances, citizens can see where legislators' and other elected officials' priorities are. 

 

"Numbers mean something, and it shapes public policy," he added.  

 

He talked about where the state's money is coming from -- 57 percent of revenue comes from in the state, while 43 percent is federal money, he said -- and showed a breakdown of the state's budget.  

 

"Almost 50 percent of our budget goes to k-12 (education)," he said. "Our state department of education is our number one expenditure in Mississippi. 

 

"If our revenue's going down, I don't have as much money going in, I'm mandated by law to balance the budget, can I give education each and everything education needs or wants?" he added. "You can't. That's the debate in Jackson." 

 

Still, he argued, it was good news education is the number one priority in the state, and it's important legislators to debate how much to fund education and how to allocate the funds. 

 

He also talked about revenues versus expenses. 

 

"In 2009, we spent more money than we brought in," Pickering said. "What happened in 2009 that caused that to happen? ... The Great Recession happened. And so while it was happening, we weren't able to adjust as quickly and we actually spent more money than we brought in in Mississippi that year." 

 

But that was the only year since about 2000 when expenditures were higher than revenue, he said.  

 

"A lot of times we bash government and we mix up federal and state spending, and we think everybody's spending more money than we're bringing in," he said. "That's not true in Mississippi because it's actually against the law. We have to balance the budget." 

 

He credited the Rainy Day Fund for that balance. State law requires legislators dedicate 2 percent of the budget to the fund in case of a disaster, from hurricanes to recessions, he said. 

 

"So that we're ready for the next economic, man-made and natural disaster," he said.

 

 

 

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