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8/24/2015
Treasury Returns $150,506 In Unclaimed Property To Baton Rouge Area Residents At Mall Of Louisiana

BATON ROUGE, LA - The Louisiana Department of the Treasury returned $150,506.20 in unclaimed money to hundreds of Baton Rouge area residents this weekend at the Mall of Louisiana, according to State Treasurer John Kennedy.

"You have a better chance of finding Unclaimed Property in the Louisiana Treasury than you do of winning the lottery," said Treasurer Kennedy. "This is why we go to malls several times a year and help people search our Unclaimed Property database. We want to get this money back in your hands."

The Unclaimed Property program has returned more than $373 million to almost 600,000 Louisiana citizens since 1972. A few times a year, Treasury employees go to shopping malls to increase awareness about the Unclaimed Property program.

"One lady found $20,000 Saturday. Another woman is out of work and was overjoyed to find money," said Treasurer Kennedy. "If you missed the event, go online or give us a call. We'll get your money back to you."

Treasurer Kennedy encourages Louisiana residents who could not attend Saturday's Unclaimed Property Awareness Day 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 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.).

8/20/2015
State Bond Commission Approves $215 Million for Local Projects

BATON ROUGE, LA - The State Bond Commission approved $215 million for projects statewide and approved more than $29.3 million in savings at its August 20 meeting, according to State Treasurer John Kennedy.

"We're continuing to find interest savings on debt," said Treasurer Kennedy. "Finding these savings for taxpayers is as important to me as shrinking the interest rate on your mortgage is to your household. So far this year we've generated more than $100 million in savings by refinancing debt to capture lower interest rates."

Among the individual projects approved were:

  • Avoyelles Parish, $3.25 million in Utilities Revenue Bonds for the city of Bunkie: for (1) constructing and acquiring additions, extensions and improvements to the sewerage system and (2) providing for a reserve.
  • Avoyelles Parish, $105,000 in Utility Revenue Certificates of Indebtedness for the village of Moreauville: for improvements to the waterworks system, including rehabilitation of the sewer collection system and line replacement.
  • Calcasieu Parish, $2.7 million in General Obligation Refunding Bonds for the Calcasieu Parish School Board, School District No. 26: saving taxpayers $77,953.
  • Calcasieu Parish, $7.25 million in Revenue Refunding Bonds for the West Calcasieu Parish Community Center Authority: saving taxpayers $199,953.
  • Claiborne Parish, $2.25 million in Utility Revenue Bonds for the town of Homer: for constructing and acquiring improvements, extensions and replacements to its combined drinking water and wastewater treatment and disposal system, including appurtenant equipment, accessories and properties.
  • East Baton Rouge Parish, $75 million in Revenue Refunding Bonds for the Louisiana Community Development Authority's Woman's Hospital Foundation Project: saving $23 million.
  • East Baton Rouge Parish, $21.5 million in Single Family Mortgage Revenue Refunding Bonds for the Capital Area Finance Authority: saving $3.5 million.
  • Lafayette Parish, $12 million in Recreational Facility Sales Tax Revenue Bonds for the city of Broussard: for (1) acquisition, construction and equipping of recreational facilities and related infrastructure and (2) funding a reserve fund or paying the premium for a debt service reserve fund surety policy, to the extent required.
  • Morehouse Parish, $1.7 million in Sewer Revenue Bonds for the city of Bastrop: for acquisition, construction, repair, replacement and/or rehabilitation of existing lift stations as well as other lift stations and other treatment and/or collection facilities, including the acquisition and installation of equipment.
  • Ouachita Parish, $14 million in General Obligation School Refunding Bonds for the East Ouachita Parish School District: saving taxpayers $747,719.
  • Pointe Coupee Parish, $5 million in Sales Tax Bonds for the Pointe Coupee Parish Police Jury: for constructing, improving and resurfacing public roads and bridges.
  • St. Helena Parish, $200,000 in Certificates of Indebtedness for Recreation District, Ward 5: for acquiring, constructing and improving recreational facilities and equipment, specifically the funds will be used to build a Recreational Pavilion at the St. Helena Recreational Park.
  • St. Mary Parish, $17 million in General Obligation School Refunding Bonds for the St. Mary Parish School Board, Consolidated School Board District No. 1: saving taxpayers $1.2 million.
  • St. Mary Parish, $3.75 million in General Obligation School Refunding Bonds for the St. Mary Parish School Board, Special School District No. 4: saving taxpayers $347,524.
  • Vermilion Parish, $5 million in Sales Tax Bonds for Hospital Service District No. 2: for (1) constructing an inpatient psychiatric unit that will also serve as a saferoom for first responders and other critical personnel during extreme wind events and a rural health clinic in Erath, including equipment and furnishings in both facilities and (2) funding a reserve fund, to the extent required.
  • Vernon Parish, $750,000 in Sewer Revenue Bonds for the town of New Llano: for acquiring and constructing extensions and improvements to the sewerage system, including appurtenant equipment and fixtures.

 

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.

8/19/2015
State Sells $74 Million In Unclaimed Property Bonds

BATON ROUGE, La. - The state went to market this week to sell $74 million in Unclaimed Property bonds that will finance work on Interstate 49 South, according to State Treasurer John Kennedy. The sale generated more than $82 million in proceeds.

"This bond sale will help us move forward in completing more of I-49 South between New Orleans and Lafayette," said Treasurer Kennedy. "We've made tremendous progress on this important project by coming up with a plan that finally got us moving on the construction work. Anyone who lives in south Louisiana knows how important it is to get I-49 South finished. We need this hurricane evacuation route."

The state was able to sell the Unclaimed Property bonds at an interest rate of 3.79%. The state had to turn away some investors because of the overwhelming interest in the bonds. From the bond sale, $76 million will be deposited into a project fund for I-49 South, $5.79 million will be placed in a reserve fund and $283,000 will be used for cost of issuance.

Treasurer Kennedy developed the funding mechanism that uses excess annual collections from the Unclaimed Property program to pay the debt service on the bonds. Proceeds from the bond sale, along with federal funding, will finance U.S. 90 from Albertson Parkway to just north of Ambassador Caffery and the U.S. 90/LA 318 interchange project. The projects are part of a multi-year effort to convert 160 miles of the current U.S. 90 corridor from Lafayette to New Orleans into Interstate 49.

"We're not taking anyone's Unclaimed Property money. We're simply utilizing excess annual collections," said Treasurer Kennedy. "If you have money in the Louisiana Treasury, we'll hold onto it until you claim it."

The underwriting team handling the Unclaimed Property bond sale included J.P. Morgan, Senior Underwriter; Morgan Stanley, Stephens Inc. and Drexel Hamilton, LLC, Co-Managers; Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, L.L.P., Underwriters Counsel; Foley & Judell, L.L.P., Bond Counsel; and Lamont Financial Services Corporation, Financial Adviser.

 Opinion Columns

8/4/2015
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.
6/30/2015
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.
6/19/2015
Governor Correct To Veto TOPS Legislation

Imagine it's your high school graduation day. You've worked hard, and your parents want to reward you. They tie a big bow around a car and hand you the keys. They tell you the car is a graduation gift. 


Now imagine how you'd feel if your parents forgot to mention that they expect you to make the car payments. Suddenly, that shiny car doesn't look so shiny. 


As a state, we would have been making a similar false promise if Senate Bill 48 had become law and allowed us to saddle our students with expenses that TOPS should cover. Governor Jindal did the right thing in vetoing this no doubt well-meaning but ill-conceived legislation.


TOPS is one of the greatest programs we've ever established in Louisiana. Through TOPS, students who study hard and keep up their grades can get a college education courtesy of the state. It's the smartest thing we've ever put in place.


SB48 would have diluted the program's value by allowing TOPS to remain stagnant while tuition increases. The bill would have forced the Legislature to vote on whether TOPS awards should be boosted to match tuition hikes. In other words, our students could have been left responsible for part of their tuition bill.


Let me boil down what SB48 truly was: It was an attempt to cap TOPS.


TOPS has sent a quarter of a million kids to college in Louisiana. That's a staggering statistic considering the state's population is only 4.65 million.


SB48 existed because legislators blew the opportunity this year to streamline state spending in order to safeguard priorities such as health care and higher education. They balanced the state budget with $145 million in efficiencies that probably won't materialize. They relied on $300 million in revenue that will have to be replaced in a year's time. They stuffed the state construction budget with $377 million in projects that the state cannot afford. 


The Legislature put the budget together with duct tape, and they're at the end of the roll. Ten years ago, Louisiana had a budget of $16 billion. Next year's budget is $24.5 billion. Louisiana's population hasn't exploded in a decade, forcing the state's budget to exponentially grow. We're simply spending beyond our considerable means.

 
TOPS should not be a casualty of the state's spending problems. We can't promise to pay college tuition and then only fulfill part of the promise. We can't build up the American dream and then give our kids an invoice for it.

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