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 Press Releases

4/9/2014
Former LSU Students Can Search for McDonald's Refunds

BATON ROUGE, La. - Nearly 4,000 former LSU students who lost money due to fraud by several former employees at a McDonald's on the university's campus can now search for a refund of their money online at www.LATreasury.com, according to State Treasurer John Kennedy.

 

"LSU reached out to us to help return this money, and we are happy to do so," said Treasurer Kennedy.  "We've added the names and information of 3,900 former students and alumni to our online Unclaimed Property database.  Our Unclaimed Property Division refunds money day in and day out, and we will work hard to help people claim what rightfully belongs to them."


According to news reports, several former employees at a McDonald's in the LSU Student Union were recently caught in a scheme to overcharge students' meal plan cards for various purchases.  LSU is reimbursing current students for money lost in the scheme and has turned over the names of alumni and former students to the Treasury to handle refunds.

 

"We will do everything possible to return this money quickly and efficiently," said Treasurer Kennedy.  "The process to claim this money will be the same as searching and collecting any other type of Unclaimed Property."

 

All searches for unclaimed McDonald's refunds should be done using the Treasury's main Unclaimed Property search page on www.LATreasury.com or by calling toll-free 1-888-925-4127 (Monday - Friday 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.).
3/25/2014
Bill to Shine More Light on NGO Process Sails Through House Committee

BATON ROUGE - A bill that would require additional financial accountability and oversight of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) requesting state funds sailed through the House Appropriations Committee yesterday, according to State Treasurer John Kennedy.  The bill passed out of committee with a vote of 17 to 0 and next moves to the House floor for discussion.

I commend Rep. Simone Champagne for her efforts to bring the NGO process into the sunlight and put an end to abuse," said Treasurer Kennedy.  "But this bill is just the first step. If we are serious about reforming the NGO process we need to do more. No more burying NGO funding in the bowels of a 1,000 page budget; no more paying NGOs through intermediaries; and no more backdoor funding through hidden consulting contracts."
 
HB 225 by Rep. Champagne would require NGOs that are seeking line item appropriations to conduct public meetings, make their spending and financial records public, and agree to the auditing of expenditures. The current law requires non-profit groups receiving state funds to submit financial records to the state, but they are not required to hold public meetings or make financial records available to the public.
 
Over the years, the state has provided at least $500 million in funding to NGOs such as the Just Willing Foundation, the Purple Circle Social Club, Serenity 67, the Smiles and Happiness Foundation, the Hop-2-It Music Company, and many others.  Some of the money is distributed to NGOs directly through line item appropriations in the state's operating and building budgets. Some of the money is given to other governmental entities, which then distribute the funds to NGOs or through consulting contracts with state agencies.
 
"The real issue with NGOs is not whether they are worthy -- some are, some aren't -- but whether they are as or more worthy than the state's other competing needs, such as colleges, schools, roads, ports, health care, wetlands and small business," said Treasurer Kennedy.  "If a public official decides to fund the Purple Circle Social Club before funding LSU, people deserve to know why.  HB 225 will open the NGO process up to the public so taxpayers will know firsthand where their dollars are being spent and for what purpose."  

 

3/21/2014
Bond Commission Refuses to Agree to More Federal Government Oversight of State Housing Issues

BATON ROUGE, LA - The State Bond Commission refused to approve and enter into a settlement agreement with the U.S. government that would have put the federal government and Washington bureaucrats in charge of Louisiana housing policy, according to State Treasurer John Kennedy.

 

"The settlement would have required unprecedented federal oversight of Louisiana housing issues," said Treasurer Kennedy.  "It would have also put the Bond Commission and taxpayers at a disadvantage every time the Bond Commission didn't approve a housing project, regardless of the project's merits or lack thereof."

 

An item on yesterday's Bond Commission agenda included a motion to approve a settlement agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice, the Bond Commission and the City of New Orleans that would have required new federal housing mandates in Louisiana. Treasurer Kennedy objected to the motion, and following a roll-call vote, the motion failed to pass.

 

The proposed settlement resulted from a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice against the Bond Commission and the City of New Orleans alleging discrimination because of a delay in the Esplanade housing project. The Commission and the City denied violating any federal laws.

 

New Orleans's post-Katrina housing issues came to the Bond Commission's attention in 2009 following a Bureau of Government Research report on the impact of multifamily housing projects in the area.  At the time, the Commission placed a moratorium on all multi-family housing projects in Orleans Parish funded with CDBG funds until a comprehensive analysis could be done on the city's housing needs.

 

Following the receipt of the comprehensive housing report, the Bond Commission lifted the moratorium and approved the Esplanade housing proposal. The project's delay, however, caused the federal government to sue the state and the city.

 

If the Bond Commission and the City of New Orleans had agreed to settle the lawsuit, the federal government would have required a variety of new mandates in Louisiana including compulsory training for the Governor, Treasurer and Bond Commission members. The settlement would have also forced the City to create 350 new permanent beds in New Orleans regardless of whether federal funds were available to help finance them.

 

"Washington D.C. hasn't shown us it can run anything right these days," said Treasurer Kennedy.  "I'm glad the Jindal Administration joined with me in refusing to approve this misguided settlement."

 Opinion Columns

3/12/2014
Louisiana Needs A Med School In Lafayette

Louisiana needs another medical school.  Lafayette would be an ideal location.

 

Our state has a doctor shortage.  A third of our people live in a federally-designated primary care shortage area.  Over 2 million Louisianians lack the access to specialist physicians enjoyed by people who live in wealthier states.

 

Louisiana's physician shortage is probably going to get worse.  More of our doctors (28%) are 60 or older than are under 40 (19%).  Our three medical schools-LSU New Orleans, LSU Shreveport and Tulane-graduate about 450 doctors a year, but not all of them stay in Louisiana.  (In 2012, 108 out of 171 graduates of LSU Medical School in New Orleans remained in Louisiana; for Tulane's Class of 2012, it was 35 out of 177.)

 

Like the rest of America, our population is aging.  By 2030, 20% of all Louisianians will be 65 or older, and most of them will need a doctor.  The federal Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which will insure many previously uninsured Americans, will push demand even higher.  No wonder the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts our country will need 63,000 more physicians by 2015 (140,000 by 2025) than we are likely to have to serve America's medical needs.

 

Other states are addressing their physician shortages.  29 new medical schools have opened in the last 20 years, including a major expansion in 2013 of the University of Mississippi College of Medicine.  Louisiana still has time to catch up, but only if we act immediately by establishing a fourth medical school in our state.

 

Our politicians can fight over the turf later, but an appropriate location for that new medical school is Lafayette.  Metropolitan Lafayette is one of the fastest-growing regions of our state, with a thriving, diversified economy, superb quality of life and an accomplished community of health care providers.

 

Lafayette General Medical Center, which is now a teaching hospital after taking over the state's Charity Hospital in Lafayette (the University Medical Center), is the largest full-service, acute care medical center in Acadiana.  Lafayette General could easily and efficiently support the new medical school, perhaps in conjunction with the new Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center, the Regional Medical Center of Acadiana and Women's and Children Hospital.

 

There will, of course, be hurdles.  For one thing, money is tight.  The new medical school at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, which opened in 2013, cost $100 million.   I believe Louisiana could do it cheaper.  Louisiana could save money on its new medical school's physical plant needs by using some of the existing infrastructure in our Charity Hospital system.  Besides, once our new medical school is operational, a class of 100 students would generate $8.4 million a year in tuition for all classes in the 4 year program.

 

A second hurdle will be obtaining new medical residencies.  A medical school graduate cannot practice medicine in the U.S. until he has received on-the-job training as a resident under the supervision of a senior, fully licensed physician for 3 to 5 years, depending on the branch of medicine the resident chooses.  There is a looming shortage of medical residencies.  By 2020 the number of U.S. medical school graduates will exceed the number of residencies.

 

The good news is there are solutions.  Bipartisan legislation is pending in Congress to create 15,000 new residencies over the next 5 years.  Obamacare creates 600 new primary care residencies.  Teaching hospitals currently pay for 10,000 residencies a year; Louisiana could ask its new private hospital partners to contribute.  Commercial insurance companies, which will benefit handsomely from Obamacare, can be asked to help.  States can also use Medicaid monies to fund residencies.  It's important to address the need for more medical residencies in Louisiana teaching hospitals, because 60% of physicians end up practicing within 100 miles of where they did their residency.

 

Louisiana needs more doctors, and we're going to have to grow our own.  In 2013, Louisiana's three medical schools had 14,116 applicants for 493 spots.  A new medical school in Lafayette is needed, and makes financial sense.  If you want somebody to take care of you in 20 years, the training must start now.

 

2/17/2014
Both Right and Left Should Fight Food Stamp Fraud

Here are three things on which Louisiana liberals and conservatives should be able to agree.

 

First, Americans are among the most compassionate people in the world.  If you lose your job, you get unemployment benefits.  If you get sick and can't afford a doctor, you receive free care.  If you don't have a place to live, we'll provide one.

 

Second, this generosity is expensive.  It may be free to its recipients, but it's not to the taxpayers who pay for it.  There are 126 social programs for low-income Americans (72 of which provide cash or in-kind benefits), and that's just by the federal government.  State and local governments have hundreds more.  The federal government alone has spent $20.7 trillion in current dollars since 1964 on the war on poverty, and it currently spends $411 billion a year (12% of its budget) on programs for the poor, such as TANF, Section 8 vouchers, public housing, Medicaid, WIC, EITC, LIHEAP and TEFAP.  We do it because Americans care.  It's what separates us from other countries that allow their less fortunate neighbors to suffer or die.

 

Third, because America's social programs are so expensive, and require capital (taxpayer money) that could otherwise be spent on education, infrastructure, defense and research, or not taken from taxpayers in the first place, anyone who willfully lies, cheats or steals to get benefits from a social program for which he does not qualify should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.  No exceptions.  To do otherwise impugns the integrity of America's social net, undermines the magnanimity that funds it, unfairly taints the people who need the safety net and play by its rules, and causes taxpayers to lose confidence in programs that help the poor.

 

Unfortunately, government frequently breaks this simple rule.  Take food stamps (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP), for example.  SNAP provides money, through a debit card, to low-income citizens to buy food.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers SNAP, but the benefits are distributed by the states, in Louisiana's case the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).  In 2008 there were 650,000 Louisianians on food stamps; today there are 900,000 (out of 4.5 million people).  The program cost $836 million in 2008; today it costs $1.5 billion.

 

In May of 2013, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor audited DCFS's administration of the food stamp program in Louisiana.  Here's what he found:

  • In 2012, DCFS gave $750,000 in food stamps to 322 people who made more than $50,000 a year.
  • In 2011 and 2012, DCFS gave $1.1 million in food stamps to 1761 people who are in jail.
  • In 2011 and 2012, DCFS gave $107,864 in food stamps to 84 convicted and therefore ineligible drug felons.
  • From March 2010 to March 2011, DCFS gave food stamps to 1573 people who were double-dipping by receiving food stamps in Louisiana and another state.
  • In 2012, DCFS gave food stamps to 3060 people who spent most of the money ($2.06 million) in other states, suggesting they don't live in Louisiana.

What happened to these food stamp violators?  Nothing.  Zero.  Zilch.  Nada.

           

This is inexcusable.  It is yet one more reason why middle class taxpayers--the people who pull the wagon--are so frustrated.  They see people at the top getting undeserved bailouts, people at the bottom getting unearned handouts and themselves getting the bill.

           

Tell your public officials to enforce the food stamp laws.  Those who lie, cheat or steal to get benefits should be prosecuted.  This is a principle on which liberals and conservatives should be able to agree.

1/8/2014
A Plan to Fund Higher Education

Louisiana's colleges and universities need money.  There's a way to help them without raising taxes or tuition:  reduce spending on state government's consulting contracts by 10% and dedicate the $528 million saved to higher education.

 

When Mike Foster was governor, the state's budget was $12 billion.  It was $19 billion under Governor Blanco.  Today it's $25.3 billion.  Over this time, Louisiana's population has grown little and inflation has been low.  This notwithstanding, funding for Louisiana post-secondary education has been cut to the bone.

 

Louisiana spent $1.6 billion from its general fund on higher education in 2008.  We had finally reached the southern average for the first time in 25 years. This year's general fund spending for higher ed is $525 million-a breathtaking 67% reduction.  Even after taking into account tuition and fee increases on the backs of students and parents, total funding on higher ed is down $353 million.  State funding for higher education in Louisiana is down 17.6% this fiscal year alone (3/4s of the states have raised higher ed funding this year), the most dramatic reduction in America, according to the American Association of Colleges and Universities.  Frankly, I don't know how our schools keep the lights on.

           

At the same time, the state is spending more than ever on consultants, many of whom are out-of-state, which means the dollars don't even stay here.  According to the Legislative Auditor, Louisiana has 19,000 consulting contracts spread throughout state government.  Governor Jindal's former top financial advisor testified before the Streamlining Government Commission that 14,000 of those consulting contracts are for $50,000 or more.  For 2005 to 2010, the Louisiana Department of Education alone spent $615 million on 5,499 consultants.  In 2012, total state spending on professional, personal and consulting contracts was $5.28 billion.

           

Why do we need to spend $94,000 in taxpayer money on a California consultant to "assist students to learn valuable social skills through organized play on their recess and lunch periods" (Contract #672113)?  Why spend $874,930 on a consultant to "provide ... assistance to disadvantaged business enterprise companies doing business with DOTD" (Contract #658942)?  Does DHH really need to pay someone $19,500 to "coordinate two Golden Glove Boxing tournaments" (Contract #710616)?  Does the Department of Education need to spend $250,000 in consulting fees to "provide valid and reliable data to parents to support informed school choice decisions" (Contract #674139)?  Why would any reasonable public official spend $57,100 to "inform and educate the Hispanic community ... of seatbelt usage" (Contract #708691), or give precious taxpayer dollars to the Hop 2 It Music Co., the Smile and Happiness Foundation or theLight City Church under any circumstances, but particularly when our colleges and universities and the kids they teach are falling behind the rest of America in a knowledge-based global economy?

           

Some think the way to help higher education is to raise tuition-again.  They are wrong.  Louisiana has a lower percentage of college graduates than any state except West Virginia.  We will not bridge this talent gap and catch up by raising (even more) the cost of a degree.  Besides, since 1985, college tuition in America is up 500%--more than health care or gas or the cost of a home.

           

There's a better way.

           

In 2012, by a vote of 94-0, the Louisiana House of Representatives passed a bill (HB 327) by Rep. Dee Richard that would have directed every agency in state government to reduce its spending on consulting contracts by 10%.  The Senate Finance Committee killed the bill unanimously.  In 2013, the Louisiana House passed the same bill (now HB 73) by a vote of 86-0.  The Senate Finance Committee once more defeated the bill on a 4-4 vote.

 

HB 73 needs to be reintroduced and passed.  According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Office, it would save $528 million annually, which should be dedicated specifically in the legislation to higher education.  That's not enough, but it's a start.

 

There will be opposition.  Some will argue the bill will harm the state's privatization efforts.  Not so.  HB 73 is about government waste, not whether a vital state service can be provided more efficiently by the private sector.  Some will accuse the legislature of micromanaging.  Not so.  HB 73 does not specify which contracts should be eliminated-that's up to the agencies-or whether any should be eliminated at all.  An agency can meet its goal of reducing consultant spending by keeping all its contracts while negotiating lower prices.  Others will argue that every one of the state's consulting contracts is necessary.  I don't believe it, and I don't think taxpayers do either.  Besides, some of our agency heads make as much as $400,000 a year.  If they can't implement the reduction, I bet we can find someone who can.  Finally, the argument will be made that consulting contracts are funded with federal dollars.  Some are; many aren't.  The answer is to reduce or eliminate the contracts using state money and ask the feds to give us permission to redirect the federal money for the nonsensical contracts to higher ed.  We shouldn't be wasting American taxpayer dollars on frivolous, wasteful consulting contracts anyway.

 

The formula for a better Louisiana is simple:  real jobs for adults and a good education for our children.  We can't have one without the other.

 

This plan will work. The carnage in higher education must end.

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