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5/28/2015
Unclaimed Property Program Returns Money To Businesses

BATON ROUGE, LA. - The Louisiana Department of the Treasury's Unclaimed Property Program returned more than $16 million last year to businesses, according to State Treasurer John Kennedy.

"I encourage businesses to check our Unclaimed Property database regularly," said Treasurer Kennedy. "We don't just return money to individuals. We paid 2,146 claims filed by businesses in 2014."

The Unclaimed Property program returned $300,000 this month to Ochsner Health System. The program writes checks to businesses throughout the year.

"Ochsner Health System regularly monitors Louisiana's Department of Treasury website to ensure that we account for all payments we are scheduled to receive. We believe that it is part of our fiscal responsibility to be proactive so we can continue to invest in high quality patient care services and technology to better serve the community," said Scott Posecai, executive vice president and chief financial officer for Ochsner Health System.

The Louisiana Treasury is holding more than $635 million in Unclaimed Property. Unclaimed Property is lost money that is turned over to the state from a variety of sources, including payroll checks, old bank accounts, royalties, utility deposits, interest payments, stock certificates and life insurance proceeds.

5/21/2015
State Bond Commission Approves $441 Million for Local Projects

BATON ROUGE, LA - The State Bond Commission approved $441 million for projects statewide and saved taxpayers more than $1.3 million at its May 21 meeting, according to State Treasurer John Kennedy.

"We approved projects that will benefit taxpayers across Louisiana," said Treasurer Kennedy. "Flood protection will be enhanced in Bossier Parish. A replacement hospital will be built in West Feliciana Parish. New Orleans will gain homes for 164 families. These are vital projects."

Among the individual projects approved were:

  • Bossier Parish, $6 million in Limited Tax Certificates of Indebtedness for the Bossier Levee District: for constructing and maintaining levees, levee drainage, flood protection, hurricane flood protection and all other purposes incidental.
  • Bossier Parish, $3 million in Revenue Bonds for the Louisiana Community Development Authority's Cypress Black Bayou Recreation and Water Conservation District Project: for financing capital improvements.
  • Caldwell Parish, $1.7 million in Sewer Revenue Bonds for the Columbia Heights Sewerage District No. 1: for (1) Not exceeding $1,682,000 Sewer Revenue Bonds, not exceeding 2.75%, not exceeding 40 years, construct and acquire improvements, renovations and replacements to the system including appurtenant equipment and fixtures; (2) Not exceeding $1,682,000 Bond Anticipation Notes, not exceeding 4.25%, not exceeding one year, interim financing.
  • Iberia Parish, $22 million in Hospital Revenue Bonds for the Iberia Parish Council, Hospital Service District No. 1: for (1) improvements, extensions, additions, renewals, replacements or repairs to the Iberia Medical Center and (2) funding a reserve, if necessary.
  • Lafourche Parish, $1.5 million in Certificates of Indebtedness for Hospital Service District No. 1: for (1) constructing, acquiring and improving additions to the hospital facilities and (2) acquiring the necessary equipment and furnishings.
  • LaSalle Parish, $35.8 million in Solid Waste Disposal Facility Revenue Refunding Bonds for the Louisiana Public Facilities Authority's Louisiana Pellets, Inc. Project: for (1) refunding Solid Waste Disposal Facility Revenue Bonds, Series 2013C and (2) funding a debt service reserve fund.
  • Morehouse Parish, $1.7 million in Sewer Revenue Bonds for the city of Bastrop: for (1) installing an M2 Renewables MicroScreen system and (2) rehabilitating two existing lift stations by the construction of improvements, extensions and replacements.
  • Orleans Parish, $3.6 million in Revenue Refunding Bonds for the Board of Supervisors for University of Louisiana System's University of New Orleans Project: saving taxpayers $217,757.
  • Orleans Parish, $22 million in Multifamily Housing Revenue Bonds for the Louisiana Housing Corporation's Iberville On-Site Phase IV Project: for acquisition, construction, rehabilitation, and equipping of a 164-unit multifamily housing facility in Orleans Parish.
  • Orleans Parish, $24.5 million in Multifamily Housing Revenue Bonds for the Louisiana Community Development Authority's GMF Hidden Lake Apartments Project: for (1) acquiring, rehabilitating, and equipping a 442 unit multifamily housing complex located in New Orleans and (2) funding a reserve fund.
  • Orleans and Jefferson Parishes, $225 million in Revenue Bonds for the Louisiana Public Facilities Authority's Louisiana Children's Medical Center Project: for (1) financing or refinancing designing, acquiring, constructing, equipping, furnishing, installing and renovating capital projects, including, but not limited to improvements at Louisiana Children's Medical center in Orleans Parish and/or West Jefferson Medical Center in Jefferson Parish, (2) funding a reserve fund, if necessary and (3) paying capitalized interest.
  • Plaquemines Parish, $13 million in Revenue Refunding Bonds for the Plaquemines Parish Council: saving taxpayers $446,733.
  • Rapides Parish, $3.7 million in Water Revenue Refunding Bonds for Waterworks District No. 3: saving taxpayers $304,701.
  • Rapides Parish, $5 million in Water Revenue Bonds for Waterworks District No. 3: for constructing, improvements and extensions to the waterworks system.
  • Rapides Parish, $6.5 million in Revenue Refunding Bonds for the Louisiana Community Development Authority's town of Woodworth, Louisiana Project: for refunding Sewer Revenue Bonds, Series 2001 and 2008, Public Improvement Bonds, Series 2011 and Water Revenue Bonds, Series 2010.
  • Sabine Parish, $1.2 million in Taxable Water Revenue Bonds for Waterworks District No. 1 (DHH Program): for acquiring, constructing and installing additions, extensions and improvements to the drinking water system, including equipment and fixtures.
  • St. Helena Parish, $2.2 million in Water Revenue Bonds and $2.2 million in Bond Anticipation Notes for Waterworks District No. 2: for acquiring and constructing improvements, extensions and replacements to the waterworks system, including equipment, fixtures, and property, and interim financing.
  • St. Martin Parish, $2 million in Taxable Sales Tax Bonds for the city of St. Martinville (DEQ Project): for constructing, acquiring and improving sewer and sewerage disposal works, including all appurtenant equipment, accessories and furnishing.
  • St. Mary Parish, $2.5 million in Sewerage Sales Tax Refunding Bonds for the St. Mary Parish Council: saving taxpayers $132,157.
  • Tangipahoa Parish, $4.2 million in Revenue Refunding Bonds for the Ponchatoula Area Recreation District No. 1: saving taxpayers $149,729.
  • West Feliciana Parish, $25.6 million in Hospital Revenue Bonds and $25.6 million in Bond Anticipation Notes for the Hospital Service District: for (1) acquisition and construction of a new hospital, including buildings, improvements, equipment, accessories and furnishings; (2) fund a reserve fund, if necessary and (3) interim financing.

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.

5/18/2015
More Than 4,500 Owed Class Action Settlement Proceeds From Citizens Insurance Lawsuit

BATON ROUGE, LA - The Unclaimed Property division of the Louisiana Department of the Treasury is holding money for more than 4,500 people who participated in a class action lawsuit against the Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corporation (Citizens) but never claimed their settlement portion, according to State Treasurer John Kennedy.

"We want to return this money to the people. Call us or visit our website. Most class action members are owed on average $1,640," said Treasurer Kennedy. "You don't want to just walk away from this money."

The Treasury deposited $7.7 million in settlement proceeds on May 15. Names have been uploaded into the Unclaimed Property database, which can be searched online. There are 4,588 individuals who are owed money. Most are entitled to $1,640.

The proceeds come from a class action lawsuit filed against Citizens over the handling of claims after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The proceeds received by the Unclaimed Property division are for class members who did not collect their payment or never cashed their checks.

"Our average Unclaimed Property refund is $900. The average Citizens refund is much higher," said Treasurer Kennedy. "If you were a participant in the class action lawsuit and never received any money, please search the Unclaimed Property database."

To search for class action settlement proceeds, use the search page at www.LATreasury.com or call 1-888-925-4127. Calls will be answered from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

 Opinion Columns

4/27/2015
Louisiana: A Consultants' Paradise, Part 2

LSU system leaders are planning more layoffs. Their state funding has shriveled up. They've had to raise tuition, making college an unattainable dream for many would-be students. And Wall Street doesn't want to loan money to them because of the abysmal way higher education is funded in Louisiana.

At the same time, we're outsourcing the monitoring of our black bear population, the study of our white-tailed deer, the genetic analysis of our yellowfin tuna, the survey of our big brown bats and even research on the Macondo Oil Spill (otherwise known as the BP Oil Spill) to universities in Tennessee, Georgia, Texas, Mississippi and New Jersey. We're paying them thousands of dollars.

We're spending millions of dollars on a state agency's marketing strategy. Thankfully, the money is going to a Louisiana business, but, still, it's millions of dollars. We've got a $1.8 billion state budget shortfall. We're dining on steak and lobster when we should we clipping coupons and living on Ramen noodles. Our universities are paying the price for our extravagance.

Now, before you start downloading applications to send your kids to college in Colorado or Florida, let me reassure you. The legislative session just got under way. There's time to fix this problem.

All we need to do is to stop making Louisiana an out-of-state consultants' paradise.

State government in Louisiana has thousands of consultants and consulting contracts. Here are just a few:

  • Contract #734975; "Monitoring the Louisiana Black Bear Population: Continued Health Of The Population, Monitoring Adult Female Survival & Continue Hair-Snare Work In The Texas & Upper Atchafalaya Population;" University of Tennessee; $189,750.
  • Contract #716789; "Effects Of Predation On White-Tailed Deer Recruitment On The Tensas National Wildlife Refuge In North-Eastern LA;" University of Georgia; $315,010.
  • Contract #718119; "Describe The Reproductive Biology Feeding Ecology Of Yellowfin Tuna In The Northern Gulf Of Mexico And Assess Genetic Stock Structure Of Yellowfin Tuna And Connectivity Between The Gulf And Other Regional Stocks In The Atlantic Basin;" The University of Southern Mississippi; $546,845.
  • Contract #717427; "Research On The Effects Of The Macondo Oil Spill On Coastal Ecosystems;" University of Tennessee; $551,797.
  • Contract #734837; "To Complete Planning, Webinars, And Face To Face Training To Improve Supported Employment Services Provided To VR Consumers With The Most Significant Disabilities;" University of Arkansas, $42,500.
  • Contract #728593; "Complete Broad Survey To Document Current Distribution Of The Big Brown Bats;" Texas Tech University, $74,129.
  • Contract #714507; "Research On The Effects Of The Macondo Oil Spill;" Rutgers University, $413,357.
  • Contract #730926; "Provide Assistance In Developing And Executing A Strategic Marketing And Communication Program For Louisiana Department of Economic Development;" $3.4 million.

Two pieces of legislation - House Bill 30 by state Rep. Dee Richard and House Bill 376 by state Rep. Lance Harris - up for consideration this session would cut down on the waste of taxpayer money and toss a life boat to universities drowning in financial problems.

House Bill 30 would create more legislative oversight for contracts worth $40,000 or more. State agencies will think twice if they have to go before the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget before hiring an out-of-state consultant. Money set aside for contracts that are rejected by legislators will go to higher education.

House Bill 376 would establish a clearinghouse at the Board of Regents for federal grants received by the state. The clearinghouse would decide if Louisiana public colleges and universities can do the work for which the grants have been given, instead of out-of-state universities, out-of-state consultants and politically connected nonprofit organizations. This will help both Louisiana colleges and Louisiana taxpayers.

We can save higher education from financial exigency. We can save money for taxpayers. All we need is a little common sense.
4/16/2015
We're About To Deplete The State's Last Savings Account

You probably hear the words "tobacco settlement" and wonder what the heck that even means. Allow me to boil it down for you: It translates into hundreds of millions of dollars for legislators struggling to balance the state budget, and that's definitely not a good thing. Even worse, it means saddling our children and our grandchildren with a staggering $1.2 billion in debt.

We sued the major tobacco companies years ago over our smoking-related health care costs. Smoking is terrible for your health, but it's certainly legal to smoke if you choose to. However, smoking is also terrible for states' health care budgets. Tobacco companies were asked to pay for the added expense to the taxpayer-funded Medicaid program. All states, including Louisiana, joined in the litigation.

In the end the tobacco companies settled and agreed to pay billions of dollars over several decades. We didn't get the money in a lump sum. We got a recurring revenue stream.

During my first term as Louisiana's state treasurer, I helped oversee the sale of part of that revenue stream to investors. We wanted to hedge against the possibility of tobacco companies declaring bankruptcy.

Now we didn't just slap a "for sale" sticker on part of our tobacco settlement and start taking bids. We did our homework. We did enough homework to qualify for a graduate degree at Harvard. We looked at every single pro and con. We sat down with experts. We took our time. We treated this revenue stream like the valuable asset it is. In other words, we didn't cart the family heirloom down to the pawn shop so we could take a trip to Walt Disney World.

We only sold part of the revenue stream, and we locked up the proceeds.  They're safely tucked away into a trust fund that earns money for health care, education and TOPS.

Now we're looking at selling the rest of the revenue stream in a fire sale because we're facing a $1.6 billion state budget hole. The Division of Administration will tell you that we can generate $751 million.

Basically, we'll take on debt by selling $1.2 billion in bonds to investors for an upfront cash payment of $751 million. Those bonds must be repaid by 2054. The interest on the bonds will run $475 million. Within three years, the $751 million will be spent. All that will remain are the bills that must be repaid by our children and grandchildren. This amounts to draining their college fund to buy a bass boat and then telling them to saddle themselves with high interest student loans.

Here's what I know. This sounds like the same bad budget policy that drained the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly, raided the Artificial Reef Fund, just about bankrupted the state employee health insurance program and declared a tax amnesty every single year. We're pouring sand into holes and then acting surprised when the wind blows out the granules.

Even worse, we're not going about this the right way. This is the state's last savings account. We've depleted our other reserves because we spend more as a state than we take in.

Do you know how the Division of Administration is picking the financial advisers and other professionals for this nearly $1 billion transaction? They're pumping smoke into a room and making selections. They're not bidding this out to get the best price. They're not bringing the hiring before the State Bond Commission, where this can be decided in front of the public. They're handpicking someone in a smoke-filled room.

Now I don't think the Division of Administration is flouting the law because the officials over there are corrupt. I think they're in too big of a hurry. I think they're trying to tide the state over for six months, and then they're out of here.

Do we need to sell the rest of the tobacco settlement? I have no idea. We haven't gathered data on smoking trends or tobacco companies' financial stability. Are we going to protect the money that we generate? I can't answer that question either because the Division of Administration just wants you to trust that it will be protected. They want you to believe the money will be used for TOPS. Don't buy into that wink and promise.

Legislators have a hefty task before them. They have to balance the budget, and the governor hasn't provided enough money. The proceeds from selling the rest of the tobacco settlement are going to be more alluring than Bathsheba bathing on that roof.

We need to do right by taxpayers. We need to do our due diligence before we sell this income stream. Then, if we do sell it, we need to lock it up in a trust fund. Dedicate the earnings to TOPS. Dedicate them to roads. Just don't waste them.
3/2/2015
Higher Education Can and Must Be Saved

If you look long enough at the cuts to our higher education budget, you begin to feel like Alice in Wonderland tumbling down that deep rabbit hole. You don't know when the nightmare is going to end.


A report by Moody's Investors Services told the nation what we in Louisiana already knew. Our public colleges and universities have suffered deeper budget cuts than anywhere else in the U.S. over the past five years.

Charts by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities show we're digging ourselves deeper and deeper into a hole.

In 2013, Louisiana was second to New Mexico in the negative change to state spending per student with inflation adjusted. Now Louisiana stands first, spending $5,004 less per student. Our neighbor to the east, Mississippi, is spending $2,524 less per student. Texas has managed to spend only $1,996 less per student.

Moody's warned that Louisiana's colleges are ill-equipped to face additional credit stress. In simpler terms, Moody's is warning that it will slash the credit ratings of our colleges and universities unless we clean up our budget mess. Our higher education system doesn't need a lower credit rating on top of the budget cuts. A lower credit rating would make it more expensive to borrow money when it's time to build new dormitories or fix the chemistry lab.

Thus far, we've settled on raising tuition as the solution to our problems. As Alice found when she ate the "Eat Me" cake and outgrew the room, bigger isn't always better, especially when it means taking a bigger chunk out of our families' household income to put kids through college. That's a tax increase, even if you don't call it one.

So let's stop taking more and more money out of our taxpayers' pocketbooks. Let's not even have a discussion about new tax increases. We don't need to raise taxes.

The state budget under Governor Mike Foster was $12 billion. Now it's $25 billion. Unless we're giving every state worker a $120,000 LS Lexus Hybrid to tool around the state in, we have enough money to meet our needs. All we need to do is stop foolish spending.

A report by the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana estimated we could save $300 for every Medicaid patient who goes to a doctor's office or a clinic instead of the emergency room. Why is that significant? Medicaid and uninsured patients in Louisiana make 900,000 visits to the emergency room each year for routine care. Get a handle on that problem, and the savings are in the hundreds of millions.

Another problem - and it's one I've talked about so much that even I'm getting a little tired of punching the alarm button - is the number of consultants on the government payroll. We have 19,000 consultants. Would you believe we've paid someone to teach people how to use Facebook?

Let me tell you about Edythe Kirchmaier. Teddy Roosevelt was president when she was born. She knitted care packages for World War I soldiers. Now age 107, she recently became Facebook's oldest registered user. And she did it without the help of a paid consultant. You can follow her on Facebook. If you're unsure how, just ask Edythe to teach you.

The Louisiana Legislature will convene in April to debate the state budget in earnest. Legislators will have to figure out how to fill a $1.6 billion budget hole. I hope they don't continue to devastate higher education with cuts. I hope they don't hire more consultants. I hope they settle on sensible solutions that get us back into credit rating agencies' good graces and set the state on a smooth course for the future.

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