The two men running for Mississippi insurance commissioner say encouraging competition is the key to reducing rate payers’ costs as the state continues its recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
But that’s about where the candidates’ similarities end.
During a luncheon Monday in Jackson, Democrat Gary Anderson of Jackson and Republican Mike Chaney of Vicksburg criticized each other’s records of service in state government.
The winner of the Nov. 6 general election will succeed George Dale as Mississippi’s top insurance regulator. Dale is the longest-serving insurance commissioner in the nation, but Anderson defeated him in the Aug. 7 Democratic primary.
Anderson said Chaney, a state senator, has flip-flopped on issues such as taxes.
Chaney told a retirees’ group at the Capitol on March 8 that he would vote for a bill to reduce the 7 percent grocery tax and increase the tax on cigarettes. On March 20, when the bill was dead, Chaney voted against a resolution that would’ve revived the legislation. That resolution failed, and the “tax swap” proposal died at the end of the legislative session.
Chaney said in March that a bill and a resolution are two different things, and that he was more in favor of a stand-alone cigarette tax increase than of a proposal to combine an increase in the cigarette tax with a decrease in the grocery tax.
Anderson said Monday: “This whole race will boil down to who can you really trust in this office of insurance (commissioner). My opponent has been prone to saying one thing but doing something else. And I think that’s so – that’s a character flaw that he has.”
Chaney responded that he does what he believes to be best for the citizens of Mississippi.
“Only crazy folks would carve something in stone and not change their mind if the facts change,” Chaney said.
Chaney also said Anderson was part of an administration that left Mississippi in a financial mess. Anderson was state fiscal officer under Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove from 2000 to 2003.
Chaney said when Musgrove left office, Mississippi was “$700 million overdrawn in the state budget.”
Anderson said Chaney was “being a little disingenuous” about the role legislators played in setting the budget.
The state fiscal officer is one of five experts who make recommendations to legislators about what dollar figure they should use as the basis for writing a state budget each year. Anderson said when he was fiscal officer, he consistently told lawmakers that they should use conservative revenue estimates, and lawmakers consistently ignored those recommendations. When state tax collections didn’t reach the estimates, the Musgrove administration – through Anderson – had to cut state agencies’ budgets midyear.
When he was questioned Monday, Chaney said he voted for most of the bills that led to the budget shortfall when Musgrove was governor.
Chaney and Anderson spoke at a luncheon sponsored by the Capitol press corps and Mississippi State University’s John C. Stennis Institute of Government.
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