State should honor retirement promises, treasurer-elect says

Published 11:43 am Friday, December 9, 2011

Pension and other financial commitments made to state retirees ought to be fully honored by pension officials, Mississippi treasurer-elect Lynn Fitch told the Vicksburg Rotary Club in a luncheon address Thursday.

But downward economic trends coupled with increasing costs present challenges to continuing to offer the same level of benefits in the future, Fitch said, citing problems reported in other states, and it will be up to the Legislature to decide if changes should and can be made.

The solvency of Mississippi’s Public Employees Retirement System has been a source of concern to many in both public and private employment, notably since August when Gov. Haley Barbour created the PERS Study Commission to analyze the system and make recommendations for improvements. The commission’s original Nov. 15 deadline was not met and its report is expected soon.

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Elected as the state’s chief financial officer Nov. 8, Fitch, 50, told Rotarians she is looking forward to her swearing in on Jan. 5.

“I am excited, honored and humbled to have been hired to serve the state,” she said. “We are getting ready and transitioning to make the move.”

Fitch said she has been assembling a staff and developing a legislative agenda for the coming year. State senators and representatives will take office Jan. 3, with Gov.-elect Phil Bryant, who is being sworn in Jan. 10.

As state treasurer, Fitch will be one of three members on the State Bond Commission, and also will be involved in promoting the state as a good place to do business.

“Economic development and job creation, whether with large employers or small, mom-and-pop businesses, starts with the education of the children,” Fitch said.

But while Fitch cited the state MPACT program, through which parents can lock in rates and prepay for their child’s college education, as “an opportunity to invest in our children early on,” she stopped short of endorsing a legislative agenda that would increase funding for early childhood education.

Fitch, a Republican from Madison, was appointed by Barbour in 2009 as executive director of the Mississippi State Personnel Board. She previously served as deputy executive director for external affairs for the Mississippi Department of Employment Security.