The Louisiana Department of Revenue is not part of the Louisiana Department of Treasury. If you have any questions for the Department of Revenue, please call (225) 219-2200 or visit http://revenue.la.gov.
|Treasurer Kennedy: "Judge made the right decision in striking down unconstitutional and unfair retirement benefit"|
BATON ROUGE, LA - A state district judge has struck down as unconstitutional a law that created a special retirement benefit for just two people within State Police, State Treasurer John Kennedy reported Tuesday.
"This law was patently unconstitutional. Now it's null and void. This is a win for retirees as well as taxpayers across Louisiana," Treasurer Kennedy said.
In a court hearing attended by Kennedy, state District Judge Janice Clark found that the state constitution was not followed in enacting a law creating an enhanced retirement benefit for the head of Louisiana State Police and one other trooper.
One of Kennedy's objections was that the law would have drawn the enhanced benefit from an experience account that funds cost-of-living increases for retired state troopers and their families.
Kennedy testified that Louisiana's four retirement systems already have a UAL - unfunded, accrued liability - of $19 billion. The UAL is the gap between the systems' assets and liabilities. Louisiana has the sixth worst UAL in the nation. The new law would have worsened the state's financial problem.
"This was not about personalities. This was about fairness. Regardless of whether you're a prince or a pauper, you should not receive special treatment," Treasurer Kennedy said.
|Louisiana Treasury's "Refund The Tolls" Program Returns More Than $3 Million to Motorists|
BATON ROUGE - State Treasurer John Kennedy announced Tuesday that the recently concluded "Refund The Tolls" Program put more than $3 million in Crescent City Connection (CCC) toll monies owed to the public back in their hands.
"We took our duty to return this money very seriously," said Treasurer Kennedy. "When the Legislature asked us to do this, we immediately made the refund process as simple as possible for citizens and started issuing checks."
The toll refund program, which by state law ended on June 30th, returned a total of $3.1 million to 127,359 citizens. Refunding this money was a top priority for the Unclaimed Property program, which made an aggressive public outreach effort to identify owners, including a dedicated website and two successful "awareness days" at Oakwood Center in Gretna.
"Treasurer Kennedy and his Unclaimed Property team made the toll refund program a great success," said state Rep. Patrick Connick, who helped pass the toll refund bill in 2013. "Thanks to his leadership, we were able to get this money back to the people. They stepped up to the plate and hit it out of the park."
In addition to the Unclaimed Property program's outreach efforts, electronic verification was used to identify people who qualified for refunds but had not applied for them as the June 30th deadline approached. Citizens whose information was properly matched were issued checks immediately to their last known address, increasing the amount of toll money returned.
"I'm thrilled we were able to return this much money," said Treasurer Kennedy. "I wish we could have returned every single penny, but I'm very proud of what we achieved."
Under the "Refund the Tolls" law, the state Department of Transportation and Development transferred $7.2 million in unclaimed CCC toll monies to the State Treasury in 2013 for refunding by the state's Unclaimed Property Program. Under the law, all toll monies not refunded will be returned to DOTD for dedicated public transportation uses - 70% will be transferred to the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission for lighting on the Crescent City Connection Bridge and 30% will be put toward funding assistance for the New Orleans ferry system.The "Refund The Tolls" Program may be over, but the Unclaimed Property Program still holds more than $635 million that is waiting to be claimed by Louisiana residents and businesses. The money includes payroll checks, old bank accounts, royalties, utility deposits, interest payments, stock certificates and life insurance proceeds. Start your free online search today at www.LATreasury.com or call 1-888-925-4127.
|Treasury returns $84,400 in Unclaimed Property to Lafayette area residents at Mall Event|
BATON ROUGE, LA - The Louisiana Department of the Treasury returned $84,400 in unclaimed money to hundreds of Lafayette area residents at an Unclaimed Property Awareness Day this weekend at Acadiana Mall, according to State Treasurer John Kennedy.
"We were able to return thousands of dollars to people in just five hours. This is why we hold Unclaimed Property Awareness Days at shopping malls. We really want to give this money back to people," said Treasurer Kennedy.
The Treasury visits shopping malls across the state several times a year to increase awareness about the Unclaimed Property Program. Treasury employees are on hand to directly check whether residents have missing money. The average Unclaimed Property claim is usually around $900, but several claims this weekend at the Acadiana Mall in Lafayette exceeded $1,000.
"We still have $635 million that belongs to citizens statewide. Even if you were not able to attend the unclaimed property event this past weekend, you can search for money online. It only takes a few minutes, and there are no strings," said Treasurer Kennedy.
Since 1972, the Unclaimed Property Program has returned more than $338 million to almost 570,000 Louisiana citizens. The money includes payroll checks, old bank accounts, royalties, utility deposits, interest payments, stock certificates and life insurance proceeds. Search online at www.LATreasury.com or call 1-888-925-4127.
|Joe's Unclaimed Property Find|
As state treasurer, I end up with countless dollars that flow into my office because businesses cannot locate people. I get stock dividends, uncashed checks, abandoned checking accounts and unredeemed gift certificates.
If you toss a check into a drawer because it's only for a few dollars, the uncashed amount winds up in the state treasury. If you move without leaving a forwarding address, your utility deposit refund winds up in the state treasury. If your grandma forgets about that savings account she opened up for you when you were born, the money winds up in the state treasury.
This brings me to an important point: I either need a bigger safe or people need to claim their money. We go to malls a few times a year and offer to plug people's names into our Unclaimed Property search engine.
We advertise that roughly one in six people has Unclaimed Property. Still, we have a staggering amount of cash that belongs to other people. You hear so much about it that you tune it out - or you think that you keep a tighter hold on your pocketbook than Ebeneezer Scrooge. So let me tell you a true story about "Joe."
Joe is a blue collar worker in Monroe with six kids and a house that is tumbling down around him. He's a hard worker who takes odd jobs when he can get them. Still, he struggles to pay his bills, and there's never enough extra to keep up his home.
Years ago, Joe worked for a well-known national company. He got stock options that ended when his employment did. Joe moved on without cashing out his stock. He didn't leave a forwarding address.
Fast forward a few years. A private company sends Joe a letter offering to help retrieve money from the state treasury for him in exchange for a finder's fee. It turns out that Joe has Unclaimed Property.
Fortunately, Joe had the good sense to hand the letter from the private company to a friend. The friend just happened to know State District Court Judge Scott Leehy. Leehy immediately suspected that the letter referred to Unclaimed Property in the state treasury. He did a little research and found out that Joe has more than $30,000 in dividends, not including half a million dollars in stock.
"He had no clue that he had anything," Leehy said. "This is the nicest man. He's poor, but he has a lot of pride. He's a great family man."
With Leehy's help, Joe filed a claim for the $30,000 in dividends. That claim helped us unearth the half a million in stocks as well.
Joe worked for this money. He earned it. Last week, I signed a check releasing the money to him. I was glad to do it.
You would be surprised by how much in Unclaimed Property ends up in the state treasury. I recently wrote an even bigger check to a man in the Acadiana region. He is a businessman who had $100,000 in unclaimed property.
More than $600 million in Unclaimed Property currently is in the state treasury. The money includes old bank accounts, deposits, inheritances and stock dividends. Searching for the money simply requires logging onto www.LATreasury.com or calling 1-(888)-925-4127.
It's free to search for Unclaimed Property and claim it. Let me repeat that. It's free - completely free - to search for it and claim it. It's your money; it's not our money although a few businesses want to do the work for you and take a cut.
You have better odds of finding money in the state treasury than you do of winning the lottery.
Just ask Joe.
|Discipline in the Classroom|
At least three times a year, I clear my calendar and volunteer to substitute teach. I try to head back to the classroom on a regular basis-not because I need a crash course on the Pythagorean Theorem or the latest sixth grade gossip-but because I want to know what it's like to stand in front of students and help them learn.
Teaching is a tough job, made even tougher by the high stakes involved. How well a child does in school helps determine how well he or she does in life. Not every child will go to college, but every child should get a high school diploma. A diploma can make the difference between getting mired in a minimum wage job flipping hamburgers versus landing a well-paying job with a future in a trade or craft.
Louisiana's four-year high school graduation rate was 74% in the 2013-2014 school year. That means that over 1 out of 4 of our kids aren't finishing high school in four years. In case you're wondering, that was near the bottom of the barrel compared to the rest of the nation.
So what's the problem? Why aren't more of our children finishing school? The answer is complicated and nuanced, but certainly one contributing factor is student misbehavior.
I've seen it almost every time I have substitute taught. Too often there are one or two kids in every class who constantly interrupt and disrupt the learning process for themselves and others, often through physical and verbal abuse of the teacher and fellow students.
Some might refer to this as the lack of discipline in the classroom, but that implies it's the teacher's fault. Usually it's not. Many times teachers are expected to keep disruptive students in the classroom because school administrators are pressured from above to reduce the number of suspensions and expulsions that would otherwise reduce the school's performance scores.
A few years ago, I served on the Commission on Streamlining Government. We brainstormed for ways government can serve the taxpayers better. One idea was to funnel troubled kids into the Louisiana National Guard Youth Challenge Program or the Louisiana Department of Education's Jobs for America's Graduates Program. Both programs do a terrific job of putting misbehaving kids onto a better path. Unfortunately, neither program is used often enough.
In the meantime, one Louisiana school system is taking action. The Rapides Parish School Board is charging ahead with a boot camp-style school for older students who are chronically in trouble. The rules are simple: No jewelry. No graphic T-shirts. No green hair. No distractions.
The program-called R.A.P.P.S. for Rapides Alternative Positive Program for Students-offers a structured learning environment for students who dropped out or were expelled. "It's not a regular school, and that's what people have to realize. You have to have structure," said Clyde Washington, deputy assistant superintendent of administration.
The staff includes teachers, a behavior strategist, a counselor and a drill instructor. Students are searched daily. They have to say "yes, sir" and "yes, ma'am." They have to participate in physical activity. They have to keep their fingernails trimmed. Most importantly, they have to show up and learn or face disciplinary action.
With R.A.P.P.S., Rapides Parish is doing something that every school district should do. We shouldn't give up on misbehaving kids, but we also shouldn't allow them to keep other students from learning and good teachers from teaching. Alternative schools are one answer.
|State Obamacares Its Employees' Health Insurance|
The state of Louisiana has "Obamacared" its own employees' health insurance plan. Here's how.
One of the problems with the federal Affordable Care Act (called "Obamacare" by the President himself) is the way it's paid for: with $700 billion of taxpayer money taken from Medicare. Many Louisiana officials, myself included, have criticized this. That's why it's so disappointing and more than a little ironic that the state has done the same thing to its own State Group Benefits (SGB) health insurance plan for 230,000 active and retired state employees, their spouses and children.
According to a July 18 report by the nonpartisan Louisiana Legislative Fiscal Office (LFO), two years ago, OGB had built up a reserve fund, or savings account, of $540 million to pay its members' health insurance claims. This money came from premiums paid by employees and employer contributions paid by the state. Then OGB, which is run by the state Division of Administration, began spending $16.1 million more per month to pay claims than it was collecting in premium revenue. If this continues, by the end of Fiscal Year 2015, the reserve fund will contain only $5.6 million, according to the LFO.
What happened? Why is OGB suddenly living off its reserve fund? According to the LFO, the state has "indirectly utilize[d] OGB's fund balance to support the FY13 and FY14 operating budgets." (LFO Report, p.3). The state did this by reducing premiums, which helped employees financially but which helped the state even more by reducing the amount of the state's legally-required employer contribution to OGB, which in turn freed up money to spend elsewhere in the budget.
In other words, the state in effect took the money from the OGB reserve account to pay for the state's operating budgets in 2013 and 2014, just like Congress took the money from Medicare to pay for Obamacare.
The OGB reserve account is not the only trust fund the state has drained recently. The Louisiana Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly was established with federal dollars in 2000 to provide a permanent source of money for health care for our elderly. We were supposed to invest the money, spend the interest and leave the principal in tact. In 2012 the trust fund contained $519.2 million. At the end of this fiscal year, it will contain zero. The state has spent the interest and the principal.
Similarly, in 2011, the state capped the amount of the Millennium Trust Fund (better known as the Tobacco Settlement Trust Fund), whose earnings are used to pay for health care, education and the TOPS college scholarship fund, and redirected the tobacco settlement monies flowing into the trust fund to the operating budget to pay for TOPS, which frees up money to spend elsewhere. This maneuver thus effectively uses the trust fund money to pay for balancing the budget.
Louisiana state government finances must be stabilized. The way to do it is not especially complicated: 1) stop draining the state's savings accounts and trust funds; 2) stop spending more money than we take in; and 3) when we do spend money, spend it on things citizens need, not things politicians want.