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5/23/2016
$1.3 Million In Refunds From Jefferson Parish Red Light Camera Program Now In Louisiana Treasury

 

BATON ROUGE, La. - If you paid a ticket through the Jefferson Parish red light camera program, you need to check the Unclaimed Property Program within the Louisiana Department of the Treasury to see if you're owed a refund, according to State Treasurer John Kennedy.

Thousands of motorists were ticketed in the red light camera program. Class action litigation resulted in refunds, but not every motorist cashed the check.

"We just deposited nearly $1.3 million in uncashed refund checks from the class action settlement into our Unclaimed Property Program," said Treasurer Kennedy. "More than 50,000 people are owed money from red light camera tickets. Their names have been loaded into our database. Call us or search online to see if you're owed money."

People owed money either paid a ticket or paid the ticket and added fees after going to court. Most people are entitled to a refund of $23.18.

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.).

5/19/2016
State Bond Commission Approves $91 Million for Local Projects

BATON ROUGE, LA - The State Bond Commission approved $91 million for projects statewide and approved more than $1.9 million in interest savings at its May 19 meeting, according to State Treasurer John Kennedy.

 

"We approved funding for projects across Louisiana," said Treasurer Kennedy. "These are vital projects, including improvements to the waterworks system in Marksville, ensuring that kids in Erath have a good high school and middle school and improving the drinking water in New Llano."

 

Among the individual projects approved were:

  • Ascension Parish, $4 million in Taxable Sewer Revenue Bonds for the city of Donaldsonville's DEQ Project: for constructing and acquiring improvements and extensions to the sanitary sewage collection and disposal system, including all necessary land, equipment and furnishings and all engineering, legal and other incidental costs and fees.
  • Avoyelles Parish, $500,000 in Limited Tax Bonds for the city of Marksville: for improving the waterworks system, including acquiring equipment and fixtures.
  • Bossier Parish, $3 million in Revenue Bonds for the Louisiana Public Facilities Authority's CommCare Corporation Project: for financing or refinancing the costs of the acquisition of an existing 89-bed nursing home facility located in Plain Dealing, Bossier Parish.
  • Calcasieu Parish, $7.5 million in Revenue and Refunding Bonds for the Louisiana Community Development Authority's city of Westlake, Louisiana Project: for (1) approximately $7,300,000 Refunding Bonds, refunding Excess Revenue Certificates of Indebtedness, Series 2009 and LCDA Revenue Refunding Bonds, Series 2010 and (2) approximately $200,000 Revenue Bonds, finance matching funds to obtain grants for the additions, acquisitions, repairs and/or expansions needed within the city.
  • Iberia Parish, $5.5 million in Revenue Refunding Bonds for the Iberia Parish Council: saving taxpayers $207,049.
  • Ouachita Parish, $2 million in Revenue Bonds for the town of Sterlington: for (1) improving, maintaining, and/or repairing public streets, including related drainage and utilities and (2) acquiring, maintaining, operating and equipping a new youth sports park and tournament complex.
  • Ouachita Parish, $24 million in General Obligation School Refunding Bonds for the Ouachita Parish School Board, East Ouachita School District: saving taxpayers $1,595,265.
  • St. John the Baptist Parish, $10 million in Limited Tax Revenue Bonds for the St. John the Baptist Parish Law Enforcement District: for (1) acquiring, constructing, improving and renovating law enforcement buildings and other facilities and (2) acquiring land, equipment and furnishings.
  • Vermilion Parish, $840,000 in Limited Tax Bonds for the Vermilion Parish School Board: for acquiring and constructing improvements for Erath High School and Middle School.
  • Vernon Parish, $400,000 in Taxable Water Revenue Bonds for the town of New Llano's DHH Program: for constructing and acquiring additions, extensions and improvements to the drinking water system.
  • West Baton Rouge Parish, $2.65 million in Revenue Refunding Bonds for the West Baton Rouge Parish Council, Fire Protection District No. 1: saving taxpayers $160,034.

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

5/9/2016
Sales Tax, Corporate Income Tax Collections Improve

BATON ROUGE, La. - The April 2016 Net Receipts Report shows that total state revenue thus far for 2015-2016 was $5.947 billion, an 8% decrease compared to that time last year.

Even though revenue is down compared to this time last year, several areas of tax collections are growing from one month to the next. Corporation and franchise tax collections no longer are a negative. Sales tax, individual income tax and gasoline and special fuels tax collections grew compared to previous months. Miscellaneous taxes - which include automobile rental, telecommunication, gift and soft drink taxes - also improved.

The report includes receipts for sales tax, individual income tax, general severance tax, corporation and franchise tax, gasoline and special fuels tax and miscellaneous taxes cash receipts. The report does not include gambling revenues, fees, self-generated revenue and statutory dedications.  


General sales tax cash receipts for FY 2015-2016 to-date are $2.280 billion, for a decrease of $20 million or 1% compared to last year. General sales tax cash receipts this time last year were $2.300 billion, which was $100 million more than the prior year.

Individual income tax cash receipts for FY 2015-2016 to-date are $2.335 billion, for a decrease of $10 million or 0% compared to last year. Individual income tax cash receipts this time last year were $2.345 billion, which was $59 million more than the prior year.

General severance tax cash receipts for FY 2015-2016 to-date are $386 million, for a decrease of $265 million or 41% compared to last year. General severance tax cash receipts this time last year were $651 million, which was $34 million less than the prior year.

Corporation and franchise tax cash receipts for FY 2015-2016 to-date are $136 million, for a decrease of $344 million or 72% compared to last year. Corporation and franchise tax cash receipts this time last year were $480 million, which was $96 million less than the prior year.



Gasoline and special fuels tax cash receipts for FY 2015-2016 to-date are $516 million, for an increase of $11 million or 2% compared to last year. Gasoline and special fuels tax cash receipts this time last year were $505 million, which was $16 million more than the prior year.

Miscellaneous taxes cash receipts for FY 2015-2016 to-date are $181 million, for a decrease of $1 million or 1% compared to last year. Miscellaneous taxes cash receipts this time last year were $182 million, which was $18 million more than the prior year.

To view the report in its entirety, visit
www.latreasury.com and click "Net Receipts Statement for the Month of April 2016."

 Opinion Columns

5/18/2016
More State Government Contracts
Louisiana state government has at least 18,710 consultants on its payroll. I say "at least" because the sad fact is, according to the Legislative Auditor, the state doesn't even know the exact number of consultants it has, because there is no central database listing all of them. Furthermore, the database we do have has been changed by the Division of Administration to make it less transparent.

Many of the state's consulting contracts could be eliminated, reduced or given to our universities in order to save taxpayer money.

Below are a few of the consulting contracts you are paying for or have paid for in the past. There are many more:

* Contract #2000121024; "Educational Guidance Services Contract;" New Orleans South Africa; $1,670,421.

* Contract #702019; "Provide spiritual and religious guidance to inmates at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center and Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women and serve as imam (Muslim spiritual adviser);" Haneef Hanee Uqdah; $39,980.

* Contract #733168; "Accompany and coordinate the travel of university officials to China for business meetings and serve as logistics coordinator and translator in China;" United Matrix International; $49,999.99.

* Contract #4400007574; "Outdoor sculpture for community education building at LSU Eunice;" Obie Simonis of Somerville, Massachusetts; $60,000.

* Contract number unavailable on database website; "Sponsor the Aerospace Alliance Reception to be held in Paris, France, in connection with the Paris Air Show 2015 Event;" The Aerospace Alliance; $25,000.

* Contract #717427; "Research on the Effects of the Macondo Oil Spill on Coastal Ecosystems;" University of Tennessee; $551,797.

* Contract #2000125629; "Sales and Business Promotion Activities;" BBR Creative Inc.; $11,412,916.90.

* Contract #2000135946; "Sponsor activities for the Travel South International Showcase in Charlotte, North Carolina;" Travel South USA of Atlanta, Ga.; $35,000.

* Contract #2000121498; "Educational Guidance Services Contract;" Just One Word Inc., $1,015,200.

* Contract #681869; "State sponsorship of Chimpanzee Discovery Days, involving broad media attention to observation of chimpanzees in a spacious forestry habitat;" Chimp Haven Inc.; $10,000.

* Contract #714507; "Research on the Effects of the Macondo Oil Spill;" Rutgers University; $413,357.

Louisiana state government has a spending problem. 
4/25/2016
Stop Food Stamp Abuse
 


Too many people in Louisiana are on food stamps. Every politician in Baton Rouge knows it, but few are willing to say it.

Let me be clear. I'm not talking about our oilfield families who have faced layoffs or reduced schedules. I'm not talking about folks still recovering from the recent floods. No, I'm talking about able-bodied adults between the ages of 18-49 with no dependents who have been unemployed for years.

I have the utmost compassion for those families who truly need assistance, and I do believe society should offer a basic safety net to help them transition into better jobs and careers. But I have absolutely no tolerance for individuals who abuse the system by stealing hard-earned taxpayer dollars, who steal resources from the truly needy, and who should be working in the first place. Instead, we need justice for that kind of abuse, and I think Louisiana citizens want that as well. Two bills currently before the Legislature move us closer to that kind of accountability, and I hope the Governor will support them.

House Bill 594 by state Rep. Jay Morris would require legislative authorization to eliminate the federal food stamp work requirements for able-bodied adults aged 18 to 49 without dependents. This authorization is important because, as citizens may remember, the Governor requested a waiver for food stamp work requirements upon being elected without any input from the Legislature. This bill ensures that the Legislature will have a say in the matter.

Next, House Bill 987 by state Rep. Mike Johnson allows individuals who are fraudulently using food stamps to be prosecuted and requires them to pay back the assistance they received. The reports of abuse in North Louisiana after the storms, in which individuals not affected by the floods were obtaining food stamps, are downright disgraceful. Those are dollars that should have gone to actual flood victims and their families. The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services required no proof of damage because it said it would take too much time to process. Instead, all DCFS asked for was a form of identification. This bill would ensure that the whistleblowers reporting the fraud are protected and that violators pay back the taxpayer dollars they stole.

 

These bills offer common sense requirements that most citizens probably assume are already being enforced. Unfortunately, common sense and state government don't always go hand-in-hand. Food stamps should not be a way of life when you are able-bodied, have no dependents, and can go find a job and work the minimum of 20 hours a week to receive assistance. Food stamps are supposed to be a helping hand so that you don't starve while you're crossing the bridge between poverty and self-sufficiency. The American dream isn't a life spent on food stamps; it's a life spent in pursuit of prosperity.

 

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3/22/2016
How To Stop Medicaid Fraud

Not long ago, employees at a Minnesota mental health agency blew the whistle on what they described as years of Medicaid fraud. Officials are still tallying up the damage, but the fraud is estimated to be in the millions of dollars.

Do a Google search for Medicaid fraud in Louisiana, and you'll find that it's not just a problem for our neighbors in the north. Medicaid fraud is a problem across the U.S., and that includes Louisiana.

Here in Louisiana, a Prairieville couple started a personal health care business funded solely with Medicaid money. Then they skipped the mandatory training that their workers were supposed to receive to become certified personal care attendants. Not only did this couple bill the Medicaid program more than $7 million, but they put their patients' lives at risk by assigning them care workers who couldn't even perform basic life-saving measures.

The Medicaid program is big and complex. It's ripe for fraud and abuse. It's no surprise that people are cheating the system. And, in Louisiana, Medicaid is an $8.3 billion program. Dr. Donald Berwick, former administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Obama, testified to Congress that 10% of Medicaid spending is fraudulent. That's $830 million in Louisiana.

We're struggling as a state right now. We're talking about making drastic cuts to public services. We ought to be talking about taking drastic measures against Medicaid fraud.

Fraud comes in different forms. Some of it's easy to prevent. For example, California uses data analytics (the science of using algorithms to examine raw data in order to draw conclusions from the data), similar to that used by credit card companies, to identify provider billing trends and anomalies that indicate fraud, thereby stopping the fraud before a fraudulent claim is paid. Front-end anti-fraud measures like this save more taxpayer money than trying to recover the funds after the fact, sometimes referred to as the "chase-and-pay" approach.

Though technically not fraud, we also need to discourage Medicaid patients from treating emergency rooms like a primary care doctor's office. We can place community health workers in ER waiting rooms to redirect to private providers those with problems that aren't really emergencies. Houston's Memorial Hermann Hospital accomplishes this through the Patient Navigator Program. We can also require copays for emergency care for nonemergencies.

Additionally, we need to ensure that those receiving Medicaid actually are eligible for it. This is a bigger problem than you might think. Pre-enrollment investigations (including background checks) of applicants to make sure they qualify for Medicaid is vitally important.

In Louisiana, Bayou Health is the way most Medicaid patients receive care. Five Managed Care Organizations, or MCOs, administer the program. They pay the doctors and the other providers. The state pays the MCOs a fixed amount per month, per Medicaid patient to manage the patient's care, and the MCOs pay the doctors and other providers a portion at the fixed per member, per month rate to treat the patient. Those rates are where the money is. Overpayments due to fraud trigger a higher rate, as a Washington state audit of its MCOs shows. The incentive to root out the fraud, or the payments that shouldn't be made, can be strengthened because each year's new rates are based on last year's rates.

Do the math. If we stop just a fraction of the fraud - and there's probably much more than that - we'd save the state between $150 million and $200 million a year. Think about that. We wouldn't have to worry as much about how to pay for TOPS. We wouldn't have to worry as much about how to pay our hard-working teachers. All we've got to do is keep a better eye on the Medicaid cash register. Right now, we're keeping the cash register drawer open and asking people not to help themselves to any money while we go on break. Then we're paying them for every dollar that's stolen.

What we also need to do is put more auditors at the state Department of Health and Hospitals, as envisioned by House Bill 89 in the 2016 special session, which failed to pass. We need to give each auditor a desk, a computer and a coffee cup with his name on it. We need to let them know that what they're going to be doing for years to come is stopping the state from making fraudulent Medicaid payments. And we need to put them to work now.

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