ATLANTA -- Treasurer Marshall Bennett of Mississippi yesterday urged Governor-elect Kirk Fordice to consider continuing the tradition initiated by outgoing Gov. Ray Mabus of the annual sale of state capital improvement bonds.
"I urge the new administration to thoroughly review Gov. Mabus's capital budget concept," Mr. Bennett said. "I think an effective use of this tool is an essential ingredient in building for the state's future."
He added that continuing the annual sale of these bonds could help the state meet needs for new schools, state office facilities, and prisons.
Mr. Bennett said the question of increased bonding for economic development would also be an issue for Mr. Fordice, who takes office on Jan. 7, and Mississippi's Legislature, which begins its 1991 regular session on Jan. 14.
Mr. Fordice,, who will be the first Republican governor in the state since 1871, won an upset victory in November over one-term Gov. Ray Mabus, a Democrat.
Officials in the governor-elect's transition team did not return repeated phone calls. During the gubernatorial campaign, Mr. Fordice had criticized the increased use of tax-exempts during Gov. Mabus's tenure as governor.
Shortly after taking office in 1988, Mr. Mabus divided the state's budget into separate operating and capital budget components. This was the first time this had been done in Mississippi.
He later called for a comprehensive five-year program of bond-financed capital improvements targeting $100 million in debt a year for building and renovation.
Mississippi lawmakers responded by approving a total of $188 million new general obligation debt under three successive capital spending plans: $40 million of GOs in 1988, $78.5 million in 1989, and $69.5 million in 1990.
The 1991 legislative session produced no new capital improvement bond allocation, after senators and representatives failed to reach agreement.
Whatever stance Mr. Fordice takes on new general obligation bonds in upcoming legislative session, lawmakers are apt to be cautious about approving additional state borrowing, said state Sen. Bob Montgomery, D-Madison County, chairman of the Senate's Finance Committee and a supporter of the Mabus approach to capital spending.
"I'm not optimistic [the Mabus approach] will be favorably considered, because the political climate will be far more conservative in this session, and there will be more suspicion about selling bonds," he said.
Sen. Montgomery said his "initial impression" from discussion between lawmakers and Mr. Fordice is that the governor-elect does not favor a capital bonding program.
"But as far as I am concerned, the jury is still out, and the further Mr. Fordice gets from the election and the closer to the beginning of the legislative session, the more seriously I think he will take a capital plan," he added.
Sen. Montgomery said he would personally draft and submit a capital bond plan for fiscal 1993 that would call for about $80 million in new state general obligation bonds.
He said he thinks the plan would have a good chance in the Senate, which passed a $116 million program last year, but will be resisted by the House of Representatives.
Arthur J. Grisi, senior vice president at Standard & Poor's Corp., said the agency would be inclined to look favorably on continuation of a yearly capital bonding program in Mississippi.
"We view the systematic use of capital improvement debt to support state infrastructure development in Mississippi as a plus, particularly in light of the state's relatively low debt burden," he said.
Whatever bond plan is advanced by the new governor will be considered by a Legislature mindful of the state's current budgetary constraints, said Andy Reese, information officer for the House of Representatives.
Although Mississippi does not face the same problems it did this time last year, when state officials were scrambling to head off an anticipated $100 million deficit, it remains under fiscal stress.
Through the end of October, according to Mr. Reese, the state is only $2.1 million above anticipated collections.
Mississippi has about $460 million of general obligation debt outstanding, rated Aa by Moody's Investors Service and AA-minus by Standard & Poor's Corp.