By STEVEN NALLEY
During a campaign visit to Starkville, Connie Moran, the Democratic candidate for Mississippi treasurer, visited Starkville Daily News to talk about how her background could help improve economic conditions in the state.
Moran has more than 20 years of experience in state and local government, with a specialty in economic development which includes three years as director of Jackson County Economic Development and five years as managing director of the State of Mississippi European Office in Frankfurt, Germany. If elected, Moran said she would recruit new businesses through contacts across Mississippi, including infrastructure agencies like the Mississippi Department of Transportation.
“Many of those infrastructure projects are used to leverage incentive packages for new companies to come in,” Moran said. “So in that way, I’d play a direct role in helping to bring manufacturing, green technology and other state of the art industry to the state. That translates into jobs.”
While the state legislature is responsible for balancing the budget, Moran said the state treasurer has some measure of indirect influence on the budget. The treasurer makes calculations the legislature uses for its economic growth projections, and she said her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in finance and economics from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. will help her ensure projections are more accurate.
“Right now they just go year to year by the seat of their pants, balancing the budget every year,” Moran said. “The past seven or eight years, they’ve overestimated the rate of growth, so the legislature is left scrambling, (wondering) what to slash next. That’s very inefficient. They just end up firing people, laying them off and having equipment lay idle. That is not an efficient way to do business.”
Moran currently serves as mayor of Ocean Springs, and she said her crisis management experience in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill will help her manage an ongoing economic crisis affecting Mississippi and the nation. She said there were two major reasons Ocean Springs came out of Katrina stronger than ever.
First, Moran said, Ocean Springs was well prepared, with communication channels strong enough to stay open during the storm and equipment standing ready for debris and rescue teams ready to secure the area. Second, she said Ocean Springs was able to acquire $50 million in infrastructure funding to rebuild the city, owing in part to Moran’s experience with grant programs.
“Understanding how all that works and having done that as a living, I was able to put that skill set to use for the city,” Moran said. “We have a lot of communities here in the state that have been devastated by tornadoes in Northeast Mississippi as well as flooding in the Delta. As a member of the board of directors at the Mississippi Municipal League, (I) have contacts with every mayor and members of the board of aldermen and most municipalities in the state, so I would take that experience as well to work with them on a community level and bring in the best of the best for rebuilding.”
Moran said one of her friends in the Mississippi Municipal League is Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman, and like many of Starkville’s leaders, she places a high value on public safety and infrastructure. She said she insisted on a walking path for the Biloxi Bay Bridge and, like Starkville leaders, held a referendum to fund a new police department for her city.
“When I was elected in 2005, our police department was so small and in deplorable condition; it was simply embarrassing. Our jail was not up to code and we had to hire lots of corrections officers, so we went for a referendum to ask voters to consider a 2 percent levy on restaurants and lounges which passed, and that is the money we’re using — we’re about ready to cut the ribbon on the fire and emergency operations center.”
Moran said Starkville would benefit directly from her plan to raise awareness of Mississippi’s college savings plan and make it more accessible.
“My goal is to make it easier for not just parents, but extended family members to save out of their gross pay and automatic deductions into the tuition fund for a child that they designate,” Moran said. “It could be a lot better. It’s very underutilized, and people are not aware of it. They don’t realize we could make it a lot easier and cut the red tape where you could sign up to have a payment out of your gross pay taken out and dedicated to this fund.”
Finally, Moran said she is worried about possible adjustments to the state’s Public Employees Retirement System. Rumors about cutting public contributions to PERS upset her, she said, because while many in Mississippi public service make less than their private sector counterparts, they do currently have a healthy retirement system.
“It’s the one carrot on the stick that incentivizes people to come work in public service,” Moran said. “It’s the way we attract good, quality employees, and it’s the way we retain them. A friend of mine is an assistant high school principal and called yesterday and said, ‘If they’re going to mess with the retirement system, those of us that are already eligible to retire, we’re going to get out right now before they change the system and we lose out.’ Right now, 42 percent of all the employees are eligible to retire. That would be massive.”