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|State Bond Commission Approves $307 Million for Local Projects |
BATON ROUGE, LA - The State Bond Commission approved $307 million for projects statewide and saved taxpayers more than $10 million at its December 18 meeting, according to State Treasurer John Kennedy.
"We have saved taxpayers millions of dollars in interest on local projects. We will continue to generate savings where we can," said Treasurer Kennedy. "We also approved borrowing that will increase the public library system's footprint, renovate a courthouse, help with the price of timber and improve an electric utility system and port."
Among the individual projects approved were:
- Allen Parish, $1.5 million in Revenue Bonds for the Allen Parish Police Jury: for maintaining, constructing, improving, renovating and supporting the Allen Parish Library and its branches.
- Allen Parish, $90 million in Solid Waste Disposal Facility Revenue Bonds for the Louisiana Public Facilities Authority's Southwest Louisiana Bioenergy Project: for constructing, installing, acquiring and equipping a wood pellet plant.
- Beauregard Parish, $9.995 million in Sales Tax Bonds, Series 2015, for the Beauregard Parish Police Jury: for constructing, expanding, improving and renovating the Beauregard Parish Courthouse.
- Bossier Parish, $94 million in Revenue Refunding Bonds for the Louisiana Community Development Authority's city of Bossier City project: saving taxpayers $4.8 million.
- Caddo Parish, $7.8 million in General Obligation Refunding Bonds for the Caddo Parish Commission: saving taxpayers $266,000.
- Concordia Parish, $3.1 million in Sales Tax Refunding Bonds, Series 2015, for the Concordia Parish Police Jury, Sales Tax District No. 1: saving taxpayers $256,000.
- Orleans Parish, $7 million in Revenue Refunding Bonds for the Health Education Authority of Louisiana: saving taxpayers $896,000.
- St. Charles Parish, $27 million in Water Revenue Refunding Bonds, for the St. Charles Parish Council, Consolidated Waterworks and Wastewater District No. 1: saving taxpayers $1.7 million.
- St. Tammany Parish, $43 million in General Obligation School Refunding Bonds for the St. Tammany Parish School Board, Parishwide School District No. 12: saving taxpayers $1.8 million.
- Tangipahoa Parish, $13.5 million in Sales Tax Refunding Bonds for the city of Hammond: saving taxpayers $355,000.
- Terrebonne Parish, $8.5 million in Certificates of Indebtedness, Series 2015, for the Terrebonne Port Commission: for (1) refunding Taxable Certificates of Indebtedness, Series 2009, Series 2012, Series 2013B and Certificates of Indebtedness, Series 2013A and (2) financing capital improvements for the port.
- Winn Parish, $2 million in Electric Utility Revenue Bonds, 2015, for the city of Winnfield: for constructing and acquiring extensions and improving and making replacements to the electric utility system.
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
|Kevin P. Reilly, Sr. Louisiana Education Quality Trust Fund Earns Record $113.35 Million|
BATON ROUGE, LA - State Treasurer John Kennedy announced at a joint meeting of the Board of Regents (Regents) and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) Thursday that the Kevin P. Reilly, Sr. Louisiana Education Quality Trust Fund (LEQTF) earned more than $113 million this past fiscal year - surpassing the previous year's record-breaking investment performance.
"The LEQTF is an important fund that provides funding for prekindergarten through 12th grade as well as higher education in Louisiana," said Treasurer Kennedy. "We strategically invest this money to preserve the fund's capital, enhance market value and provide a stable and predictable income. I couldn't be prouder of the success of our efforts."
The LEQTF was established in 1986 to invest money from the Federal Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. From an initial investment of $540 million, the fund has grown to $1.311 billion and allocated more than $1.5 billion to Regents and BESE over the span of 28 years.
The total return on investments in the LEQTF was 11.35% last year, a jump from the previous year's return of 5.8%. The fund's major sources of income are investments, capital gains and losses and royalties.
"The LEQTF total return of 11.35% was the second best year in the history of the fund. Given that the fund can only have 35% of its assets in higher performing equities, this is a testament to the hard work of the Investment Division," said John Broussard, Chief Investment Officer for the Louisiana Department of the Treasury.
Under the management of Amy Mathews, the LEQTF portfolio manager, the fixed income portfolio returned 5.98%, 170 basis points higher than its benchmark, the Barclays Government Credit Bond Index. The equity portfolio returned 25.34%, 73 basis points higher than its benchmark, the S&P 500.
Treasurer Kennedy presented a report on the LEQTF to Regents and BESE. He also provided members with an update on the state's Student Tuition and Revenue Trust (START) College Savings Program. START has more than 49,000 active accounts and more than $545 million in investments.
"Beginning a START fund for a child makes a great Christmas present," said Treasurer Kennedy. "It's a great investment for a child's future."
For more information on the LEQTF and START, visit www.LATreasury.com.
|State Treasurer John Kennedy: Don't Grab Money From TOPS And Lottery/Education Funds|
BATON ROUGE, LA - State Treasurer John Kennedy identified $29 million Monday that can be used to avoid taking money from the TOPS and Lottery funds as part of the mid-year budget cuts.
"The TOPS and Lottery funds help us invest in education," said Treasurer Kennedy. "We shouldn't scrape money out of those funds to balance the budget. Education is too important."
The $29 million was generated by a bond premium on the state's recent sale of $200 million in general obligation bonds. By law the state can use the premium only to pay debt on state bonds other than those that generated the premium. Using the premium to pay debt service this fiscal year will free up $29 million to spend on other state needs.
Treasurer Kennedy suggested using a portion of the $29 million to restore mid-year cuts that would drain $6 million from the Lottery and TOPS funds. The remaining $23 million can be set aside in case more budget cuts have to be made.
"We need to think outside the box and protect critical education funding. TOPS helps young people go to college. The Lottery Fund is supposed to be dedicated to pre-k-12 education," said Treasurer Kennedy. "We cannot diminish these important resources."
|Search For Unclaimed Property|
Our phones have been ringing off the hook since we published the names of people with Unclaimed Property in newspapers across the state. The sound of those phones ringing is almost as sweet as the sound of a church choir singing "Silent Night" because it means we're returning money to Louisianians.
That's right. Unclaimed Property is money; it's not a plot of land. How nice would it be to have a little extra cash for your Christmas shopping?
We returned more than $35 million last year, shattering records and making a tiny dent in the amount of money stacked up in the state treasury. We're still holding more than $635 million in Unclaimed Property for residents and businesses.
As State Treasurer, I try to publicize the program as best I can. I set up booths at malls. I run people's names in newspapers. Still, people are surprised to find they have money in the state treasury.
So what is Unclaimed Property? It's lost money, such as payroll checks, bank accounts, royalties, utility deposits, interest payments, stock certificates and life insurance proceeds. If a business can't find you, they send the money to us. We hold it until we locate you.
Your grandmother may have purchased a small savings bond for you and forgotten about it. Your uncle may have written your name down as the beneficiary on a life insurance policy and never told you. Your car insurance company may have tried to send you a refund when you cancelled your policy but couldn't find you because you moved from Bossier City to Breaux Bridge. Your employer may have given you stock options that you neglected to cash out when you switched jobs.
I've returned money to celebrities and political figures. Most recently, I mailed a check to singer Aaron Neville.
It's not just the rich and famous who have money in the state treasury. Cash belonging to every day citizens is contributing to that more than $635 million balance.
The other day, we phoned a woman in north Louisiana. Her husband took out a life insurance policy before he died and neglected to tell her about it. We'll be mailing her a $60,000 check.
A family estrangement caused two siblings to lose touch. When one died, the other had no way of knowing about a nearly $200,000 insurance policy. We were able to find the beneficiaries.
In Monroe, a mother must have forgotten about her life insurance policy because she told her offspring that she didn't have one. Imagine the surprise when we uncovered one worth thousands of dollars.
Now, unfortunately, we cannot call everyone whose name is in our database. We just don't have the manpower. Tracking people down often requires a little detective work because people move or they have common surnames.
Please log onto www.LATreasury.com and search our database. You also can call us at (888) 925-4127.
It is completely free to search for and claim Unclaimed Property. There are absolutely no strings. This is a public service.
In the meantime, allow me to wish you a Merry Christmas and much happiness in the new year.
|Another Poster Child For Government Waste|
As if we needed another example of government waste, a New Orleans nonprofit appears to be the poster child for what can go wrong when an organization receives too little oversight over taxpayer money.
Alternatives Living is a 21-year-old organization that supposedly exists to help people living with disabilities. Over the years, the state has paid the group - called an NGO in state government lingo - more than $10 million ($2.8 million in 2012 alone). That doesn't include the money Alternatives Living has received from the federal government.
An investigative report by New Orleans' FOX 8 TV showed what Alternatives Living did with some of that money. The organization's officers, many of whom are related, spent $37,000 dining at New Orleans' finest restaurants. They went on cruises. They took in Cirque de Soleil. They booked a trip to Las Vegas. They spent $23,000 on Hornets basketball tickets. They leased a $540-per-month Mercedes.
On Valentine's Day in 2013, Alternatives Living's chief financial officer, Rickey Roberson, spent $155 at Redfish Grill and dropped $216 at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. The organization's officers shopped at Tuesday Morning and Amazon. They paid vet bills with taxpayer money.
For an interview with FOX 8, Alternatives Living's officers pulled up in a white Mercedes that leases for more than $500 a month. The nonprofit pays the monthly bill.
Amid the fine dining, entertainment, cruises and luxury car leases, the one thing Alternatives Living hasn't managed to do is pay its bills on time. Late fees were assessed. The IRS is demanding $1.3 million in payroll taxes, penalties and interest.
Now you would think the state would be shocked by Alternatives Living's spending habits. You would think the state would be calling for an investigation. You would think the state would be picking up the phone right now and dialing the legislative auditor's number.
Instead, the state Department of Health and Hospitals defended the organization, saying "Alternatives Living does provide high-quality services through the Louisiana Permanent Supportive Housing Program."
Patrick Lynch, a Loyola professor who also is a certified public accountant, had a different take on Alternatives Living. Lynch said the organization is living high on the hog on taxpayer money.
The problem with NGOs like Alternatives Living is not enough light shines on them. They get money through the state operating budget or the state construction budget and then they scurry into the shadows.
NGOs have gotten not just millions of dollars from state government over the years. They have gotten hundreds of millions of dollars.
In case you haven't heard, state government has money problems right now. We're cutting road maintenance. We're dipping into trust funds that were set up for education, health care and TOPS. We're grabbing money from every nook and cranny. In short, we are spending more taxpayer money than we take in because the state is not prioritizing the needs of its people.
What we should be doing is asking groups like Alternatives Living to return the money they misspent. You can be certain Alternatives Living isn't the only culprit. How many other NGOs used taxpayer money for questionable purposes? We must be better stewards of Louisianians' hard earned dollars.
|Stop Deficit Spending|
The evidence is overwhelming that Louisiana continues to spend more taxpayer money than it takes in.
We have had six years of mid-year budget cuts out of the last seven. We've raided the Office of Group Benefits, the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly, the Artificial Reef Development Fund and Lord knows how many others. We've diverted money dedicated to health care, education and TOPS from the Tobacco Settlement Trust Fund into the state general fund. We finished last fiscal year with a $140 million deficit. One-third of the way through this fiscal year, we are already $172 million ($688 million annualized) over budget in the Medicaid program, our largest expenditure.
State government would do well to heed the advice of State Rep. Brett Geymann, leader of the House fiscal hawks: "There's this constant juggling of all the numbers and using accounting tricks and gimmicks to try to find our way through another year, just to turn around and find ourselves in the same position next year."
In other words, we should use good ole Louisiana common sense: When you're in a hole, stop digging.
Here are nine steps state government should take immediately:
1. The Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB) should immediately insist on reviewing every one of the 19,000 state consulting contracts with a goal of saving at least 10% in state funds.
2. After this review, the JLCB should require state agencies to renegotiate every one of the state's remaining consulting contracts to require at least a 5% reduction in cost.
3. Terminate the contracts with the four out-of-state contractors who are spending $140 million in taxpayer money to construct a website for food stamps at the Department of Children and Family Services. Let's spend the money helping people get jobs or new skills so they don't need food stamps.
4. To cushion the blow of mid-year budget cuts and provide better service, all money, state and federal, being spent on after school tutoring and care for the disabled should be offered first to the schools of education and social work, respectively, at Louisiana's universities and community colleges to perform the same services. Our schools certainly can't do any worse of a job than some of the nongovernmental organizations spending this money now. For example, the Department of Health and Hospitals has given over $10 million to an NGO in New Orleans called Alternatives Living Inc., which promptly spent a big chunk of the money on Hornets tickets, meals at Commander's Palace and Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, and cruises.
5. Require DHH to implement Louisiana law (LRS 22:1065, LaHIPP) that allows the state to purchase private insurance for low income citizens when it is cheaper than Medicaid.
6. Reduce the annual 900,000 taxpayer-funded emergency room visits for nonemergencies, such as pregnancy tests, diaper rash and acne, and use half of the savings to build community health clinics, where patients can be treated at a fraction of the cost of treating them in an emergency room.
7. 3% of Medicaid enrollees receive 43% of the Medicaid money. Manage their care better and stop the fraud.
8. Review all Medicaid hospitalizations for medical necessity. In 2009, 80% of the 218,784 Medicaid hospitalizations, costing $900 million, were not reviewed (Legislative Auditor). DHH says we are doing a better job. Trust, but verify.
9. Immediately implement a real expenditure freeze. The state expenditure freeze implemented by executive order on November 7 has 25 exceptions that make it meaningless.
Louisiana's budget is a mess. Too many undeserving people at the top are getting bailouts and too many undeserving people at the bottom are getting handouts. No wonder taxpayers are feeling cheated. The good news is this can be fixed, but it won't be fixed with happy talk.