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|Treasury Uncovers $35 Million For Insurance Beneficiaries|
BATON ROUGE, LA - Audits of life insurance company policies have uncovered $35 million that should have been paid to Louisiana residents, State Treasurer John Kennedy announced today.
"We comb through insurance companies' records to find policies that should have been paid but weren't," said Treasurer Kennedy. "A lot of times, families weren't even aware the policies existed. We just paid $80,000 to a widow in New Orleans who didn't know her late husband had a life insurance policy."
Working with Versus Financial LLC, the Louisiana Department of the Treasury compares outstanding policies to the Social Security Death Master File (DMF). Insurance companies often do not make concerted efforts to locate beneficiaries or heirs, resulting in unpaid policies. The Louisiana Treasury has been conducting the audits since 2009.
The Treasury's Unclaimed Property Program holds onto money released by insurance companies through the audit process until the owners are found. So far this year, claimants have received $2.6 million from life insurance policy audits.
"One insurance company just transferred $1.9 million to us. That money comes from more than 600 policies that weren't paid until now," said Treasurer Kennedy. "The insurance company likely would just hold onto those dollars if we didn't conduct these audits."Treasurer Kennedy encourages Louisiana residents to search for missing money online at www.LATreasury.com or call the Treasury's toll-free hotline at 1-888-925-4127 (Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.).
|Treasurer: New Orleans Needs To Be Safe In Order To Financially Thrive|
BATON ROUGE, LA - State Treasurer John Kennedy responded today to the ACLU's criticism of his call for a stop-question-and-frisk program in New Orleans.
"I don't think the ACLU understands what I'm saying," said Treasurer Kennedy. "Stop-and-frisk was sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1968 in Terry v. Ohio. It's legal. It's also effective. Ask New York City. So long as it is not used in a racially-discriminatory manner, stop-question-and-frisk can help get the thugs, the dope and the illegal guns off our streets. The ACLU seems to think that it is impossible for the NOPD to use stop-and-frisk in a racially neutral manner. The ACLU seems to think every NOPD officer is a racist. I don't. As State Treasurer, the people of New Orleans are my constituents, too. I care about their safety. I also have a duty to see that New Orleans thrives financially."
In fiscal year 2013, Orleans Parish generated more than $300 million in sales and income taxes. The tax revenue helps support the state operating budget. Treasurer Kennedy oversees the state's finances and ensures that agencies have enough cash flow to meet their expenses. He also chairs the State Bond Commission, which approves borrowing for New Orleans projects.
"People do not want to live in, come to or invest in a city in which they don't feel safe," said Treasurer Kennedy. "Crime is impacting economic activity in New Orleans, which in turn negatively impacts tax revenue. But the money part pales in comparison to the damage being done by criminals to the soul of New Orleans."
|State Bond Commission Approves $308 Million for Local Projects |
BATON ROUGE, LA - The State Bond Commission approved $308 million for projects statewide and approved more than $17.1 million in savings at its September 17 meeting, according to State Treasurer John Kennedy.
"We approved projects across Louisiana," said Treasurer Kennedy. "Because of these approvals, Breaux Bridge will improve its water system, Baton Rouge will work on its sewer structure and Lafayette will build fire stations. These are vital projects."
Among the individual projects approved were:
- Ascension Parish, $18 million in Revenue Bonds for the Louisiana Community Development Authority's East Ascension Consolidated Gravity Drainage District No. 1 Project: for (1) drainage improvements and (2) funding a reserve fund or purchase a reserve fund surety, if necessary.
- East Baton Rouge Parish, $20 million in Taxable Revenue Bonds for the East Baton Rouge Sewerage Commission's DEQ Project: for constructing and acquiring sewers and sewerage disposal works.
- Lafayette Parish, $5.5 million in Public Improvement Sales Tax Refunding Bonds for the city of Lafayette: saving taxpayers $1 million.
- Lafayette Parish, $27.3 million in Public Improvement Sales Tax Refunding Bonds for the city of Lafayette: saving taxpayers $3 million.
- Lafayette Parish, $35 million in Public Improvement Sales Tax Bonds for the city of Lafayette: for (1) purchasing, constructing, acquiring, extending and/or improving public works or capital improvements and (2) funding a reserve fund.
- Lafayette Parish, $30 million in Public Improvement Sales Tax Bonds for the city of Lafayette: for (1) opening, constructing, paving, resurfacing and improving streets, sidewalks and bridges, (2) constructing and purchasing street lighting facilities, (3) constructing and improving drains, drainage canals and subsurface drainage, (4) constructing and purchasing fire department stations and equipment, (5) constructing and purchasing police department stations and equipment, (6) constructing and purchasing garbage disposal and health and sanitation equipment and facilities, (7) constructing public buildings, (8) purchasing, constructing and improving public parks and recreational facilities and acquiring the necessary equipment and furnishings, (9) purchasing equipment for civil defense, (10) constructing, acquiring or improving any work of permanent public improvement, (11) purchasing and acquiring all equipment and furnishings for the public works, buildings, improvements and facilities and (12) establishing reserves.
- Lafayette Parish, $1 million in Water Revenue Bonds for the city of Scott's DHH Program: for constructing, acquiring and installing meters and other improvements and extensions to the waterworks system, including appurtenant equipment, accessories and properties.
- Madison Parish, $4.9 million in Water Revenue Refunding Bonds for the city of Tallulah: saving taxpayers $366,977.
- Orleans Parish, $98 million in General Obligation Refunding Bonds for the city of New Orleans: saving taxpayers $12,776,686.
- Orleans Parish, $28 million in Multifamily Housing Revenue Bonds for the Louisiana Housing Corporation's Village of Versailles Apartments project: for acquisition, rehabilitation and equipping a 400-unit residential rental facility in New Orleans.
- St. Bernard Parish, $10 million in Taxable Utilities Revenue Bonds for the St. Bernard Parish Council's DEQ Project: for constructing and acquiring additions, extensions and improvements to the sewer portion of the combined water and sewer system.
- St. Landry Parish, $12.5 million in School Improvement Revenue Bonds for the Louisiana Community Development Authority's St. Landry Parish Public School System: for acquisition, construction, renovation and equipping of public school facilities.
- St. Martin Parish, $225,000 in Limited Tax Revenue Bonds for the city of Breaux Bridge: for acquiring vehicles and equipment.
- St. Martin Parish, $2.7 million in Revenue Bonds for the city of Breaux Bridge, Sales Tax District No. 1: for water system improvements set forth in the Master Plan.
- St. Mary Parish, $1 million in Limited Tax Bonds for the city of Patterson: for constructing and improving roads, streets, sidewalks and related easements and rights-of-way.
- St. Tammany Parish, $5.5 million in Sales Tax Bonds for the city of Slidell, Fremaux Economic Development District: for (1) various capital improvements, (2) funding a reserve fund and (3) paying capitalized interest.
- St. Tammany Parish, $800,000 in Limited Tax Certificates for Recreation District No. 11: for acquiring, constructing or improving parks, playgrounds, recreation centers and other recreational facilities, together with necessary furnishings and equipment.
- Winn Parish, $2.5 million in Sales Tax Bonds for the Winn Parish Police Jury: for improving and repairing public roads and bridges.
The Louisiana State Bond Commission meets monthly to review and approve applications from parishes, municipalities, special taxing districts, and other political subdivisions of the State requesting authority to incur debt. For more information, visit www.LATreasury.com.
|Louisiana Still Needs A Medical School In Lafayette|
The looming physician shortage in Louisiana reminds me of the premise behind the 1990s television show “Northern Exposure.”
“Northern Exposure” featured a young doctor duped into setting up practice in the wilds of Alaska. In a nutshell, the doctor failed to read the fine print for the scholarship that put him through medical school and found himself assigned to a rural Alaskan town desperately in need of a physician.
Now I’m not suggesting that we dupe medical students into treating the flu and giving booster shots in Louisiana’s villages.
What I am suggesting is that we need to jumpstart the conversation on opening a medical school in Lafayette. I wrote a column, “Louisiana Needs A Med School In Lafayette,” about this issue last year (http://tinyurl.com/pp2pxaq). We need to pick up those threads of conversation, and we need to do it without delay.
Want job security? Go to medical school and become a primary care physician. Want to experience frustration? Try getting an appointment with a primary care physician in the near future.
As a nation, we’re simply not graduating enough doctors. The shortage is only going to get worse with the Affordable Care Act expanding access to health care.
By 2025, the physician shortfall in the U.S. will range from 46,100 to 90,400. I didn’t come up with those numbers. The Association of American Medical Colleges did in a report (http://tinyurl.com/nco9qc7) earlier this year.
Do you know what that shortfall means to you? If you’re approaching 50, it means a lot. You need regular checkups to ensure you’re around to enjoy your grandchildren and your golden years. At the same time, too many doctors in Louisiana are preparing for their own retirements. They won’t be around to make sure that cold doesn’t turn into pneumonia or to check your blood pressure.
We have three fine medical schools in Louisiana. Two are in New Orleans. The third is in Shreveport.
|Why We Need A Two-Thirds' Vote On Tax Increases|
The Legislature just raised taxes by $400 million with a simple majority vote. The business community has filed a lawsuit contending that a two-thirds' vote was required. If the business community loses, we should amend Louisiana's constitution to make the two-thirds' vote requirement clear. Here's why.
Flip to Article VII, Section 2 of the Louisiana Constitution, and you'll learn about the hefty hurdle the Legislature is supposed to clear in levying a new tax, increasing an existing tax or repealing an existing tax exemption. Doing any of those things is supposed to require the approval of two-thirds of the House and the Senate. A two-thirds' vote is hard to achieve. It's supposed to be.
Do you know who established that hurdle? You, the voters and taxpayers of Louisiana did, and rightly so.
Tax increases impact families and businesses. They put a pinch on pocketbooks and profit margins. You can't set aside as much for your kids' college education if you're paying more in taxes. You can't expand your business. You can't save as much for retirement.
The $827 million in new taxes and fees passed by the Legislature last spring will affect about every Louisianian, from citizens asking for a copy of their driving record to the largest petrochemical company. Nearly $400 million of that additional revenue was passed by less than a two-thirds' vote. The Legislature says only a majority vote is required in this instance.
All of this was done because state officials refuse to force state government to live within its means. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. We don't have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem.
The legislative session wasn't over a month before the business community filed suit, raising some very good arguments. The first lawsuit (there may be more) involves House Concurrent Resolution No. 8. HCR8 suspends an exemption on 1 percent of the sales and use tax on business utilities, which means many businesses now must pay more in sales taxes on their utility bills. In its lawsuit, the Louisiana Chemical Association argues that HCR8 is unconstitutional because it was not passed by two-thirds of the House.
The litigation is in its infancy. The result is uncertain. What's not uncertain is this: The Louisiana Constitutional Convention of 1973, which rewrote the state's constitution, visited the two-thirds' vote requirement and opted overwhelmingly against making any changes. They kept the two-thirds' vote requirement to raise taxes that was also in the 1921 constitution.
Consider this excerpt from a memo written by the research staff of the Louisiana Constitutional Convention in 1973: "The greatest advantage of the two-thirds rule is in preventing the legislature from enacting tax laws which could place too much of a tax burden on the taxpayers. Accordingly, the two-thirds rule prevents the legislature from passing tax laws too hastily and without serious considerations." That's why the convention committee notes on the two-thirds' requirement proposal say that a two-thirds' vote is required on "all tax matters" - no exceptions.
Raising taxes should require serious thought. If the Legislature truly needs to do it, there should be broad, deep support, not a simple majority. A supermajority requirement makes for a stronger, more durable law. Generations of Louisiana voters have insisted on a supermajority to raise taxes.
If the courts rule against the Louisiana Chemical Association, it will probably be on a technicality, such as that our constitution is somehow unclear. If that happens, we need to amend our state constitution immediately to provide in simple, clear and unmistakable language what I believe the delegates who drafted our constitution and the voters who approved it intended all along: a two-thirds' vote is required whenever the Legislature votes in any fashion to take more money out of taxpayers' pockets. Period. No exceptions.
|The Problem Is Spending|
Most Louisianians deeply mistrust government and think a large portion of every dollar government spends is wasted. The recently completed legislative session accomplished little to disabuse them of that notion.
Sure, we're all relieved the legislature did not cut higher education any further and that our state hospitals and medical schools will remain open. How that was accomplished, however, did not solve the huge structural deficit in Louisiana state government finances.
Fundamentally, Louisiana state government does not have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem. Each year, no matter how much revenue we have, we spend more revenue than we take in, and when we do spend money, we don't spend enough of it on things taxpayers need as opposed to things politicians want.
Here are some examples of ways Louisiana state government can save money, none of which our legislature devoted any time to in the session:
1. Executive branch departments are top heavy. They have too many generals and not enough foot soldiers. The Legislative Auditor has found that 22% of all the managers in classified state service manage one employee. The average manager manages four employees. We need to limit layers of management in each department to four or five with a maximum of six for large departments, allocate one manager per ten staff, and limit clerical staff to 15% or less.
2. According to the Public Affairs Research Council, each year Louisiana has 900,000 taxpayer-funded visits to emergency rooms for nonemergencies, such as acne, insomnia, pregnancy tests, infertility counseling, obesity counseling, diaper rash, and examinations for eye glasses. (PAR Report June 2006). It costs many times more to treat a patient in an ER than a private clinic. Neither federal nor state law requires an emergency room to treat a patient for a nonemergency. Louisiana should adopt the Patient Navigator Program to steer these patients to physicians who can treat them, through the Medicaid program, in private clinics. We should also adopt a statewide ER visit database, like Washington state, to track chronic abusers, and copy New Mexico's NurseAdvice Call Center and Wyoming's 24/7 Nurse Line to help keep routine care patients out of our emergency rooms.
3. According to the state's 2014 Medicaid Report, 3% of the state's 1.4 million Medicaid patients account for 43% of the $8 billion in taxpayer money spent each year. That's $86,000 per patient. Louisiana should crack down aggressively on Medicaid fraud. Then we should implement an aggressive chronic disease management program, like the Stanford School of Medicine program used in Florida and other states, to save money treating chronically ill patients without sacrificing the quality of care.
4. Louisiana has over 350 "statutory dedications", which are special funds set up by majority vote of the legislature into which $3 billion to $4 billion automatically flows annually without having to compete with other expenditures, such as higher education and roads. Many of these statutory dedications, such as the Transportation Trust Fund, the Rainy Day Fund, and funds such as the Boll Weevil Eradication Fund (for which businesses self-assess themselves a fee in return for a government service) are necessary. Others are not. The legislature should objectively review each statutory dedication and eliminate as many as possible to free up money for more important needs.
5. Louisiana state government has 19,000 consulting contracts, according to a Legislative Auditor report issued in May of 2015. More than 4,500 of them are "off the books" and not even reported to the Office of Contractual Review. Additionally, though Louisiana colleges and universities are starving for money, the state has or has had consulting contracts with the University of Tennessee, the University of Georgia, Texas A&M, the University of Arkansas, Rutgers University, the University of Southern Mississippi, Oregon State University, Vanderbilt University, Duke University and many others. We should eliminate 10% by value of those consulting contracts funded with state money. The Governor should then write all the consultants funded with state money that are not eliminated and ask for a 5% discount. Additionally, all consulting contracts funded with federal money should be offered first to Louisiana universities.
These five ideas will save millions of taxpayer dollars. There are others. The truth is Louisiana doesn't have a revenue problem nearly as much as we have a spending problem.