The Lion”s Club of Columbus hosted Mississippi State Auditor Stacy Pickering as their host speaker Friday afternoon.
In his remarks, Pickering touched upon the responsibilities of his office, the challenges surrounding the disbursement of federal dollars and warnings about a government program currently being debated in Washington.
“The system works to protect your integrity,” Pickering said. “We work to make sure your hard-earned tax dollars are used in the way the law meant for them to be used.”
According to Pickering, Mississippi”s response to Hurricane Katrina has made the state a shining example of responsible use of federal money and self sufficiency.
“We weren”t like other victims saying, ”Woe is me, when is the federal government going to come help me?”” he said. “We got out our chainsaws and we went to work.”
He went on to comment about the low amount of fraud related to the $24 billion in federal aid his agency encountered post-Katrina. The lessons learned from Katrina, he said, have put his office in a prime position to deal with the $2.8 billion in federal dollars heading to the state from the American Investment and Recovery Act.
“With Katrina the government expected to see 7 to 10 percent of the money eaten up by fraud. We saw less than 1 percent,” he said. “We caught the fraud before it happened and we had a 100 percent conviction rate for Katrina-related fraud.”
He told the assembled crowd Mississippi is a state which will be monitored for potential fraudulent activities by the federal government.
“The government was initially going to monitor the 12 states which are going to be getting 80 percent of the money. But later they decided they wanted to see how it was going to work in some more rural states. And guess what? Mississippi was put on the list,” he said.
He also warned there was danger associated with the money, because many smaller municipalities may not be used to the stringent guidelines the government is requiring for the funds.
“These are going to be high risk dollars,” he said. “We will jeopardize them if we don”t do this right.”
At the end of his remarks, Pickering warned against some well-intentioned federal programs, specifically “cap and trade.” Cap and trade would amount to carbon emission standards which would limit the amount of carbon an industry or company was able to emit. Any amount over the pre-set guideline would be heavily taxed. The program is currently being debated in Washington, and is intended to cut the amount of carbon America dumps into the atmosphere and thus combat global warming.
“This is a Trojan horse, and if this happens power bills will rise by $3,000 a year,” he said. “It amounts to a tax on emissions and guess who utility companies and manufacturers are going to pass that tax onto? You,” he said.
Pickering was elected State Auditor in 2007. Earlier in his career he served as District 42 Senator for Jones County. He currently lives in Laurel.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.