By State Treasurer John Kennedy

Most people ring in the New Year when the ball drops on December 31. At the Treasury, however, we count down the minutes to midnight on June 30 of each year. For us, the new fiscal year starts July 1, and we recently closed out 2005 with a bang.

We had several reasons to celebrate this past fiscal year, and two major accomplishments had to do with our unclaimed property program. First, the Treasury experienced an historic year in terms of unclaimed property collections and refunds. Secondly, we successfully spearheaded an effort to use excess annual unclaimed property collections to help fund I-49 statewide.

Record Collections and Refunds

The Treasury closed out the 2005 fiscal year with $42.5 million in unclaimed property collections and $14.1 million in unclaimed property refunds, both record amounts for the 32-year-old program.

Unclaimed property employees issued roughly 17,000 refunds this year, handled more than 61,500 telephone inquiries, and answered more than 3,200 emails from citizens statewide. The division returned an average of $1.17 million in unclaimed property each month and processed several large refunds including $750,000 in stocks and dividends for one individual.

In addition to returning millions of dollars in unclaimed property to Louisiana citizens, the Treasury collected an average of $3.54 million each month from businesses and organizations. Several large collections included $1.2 million in unclaimed mobile home sales tax refunds and $1.5 million in unclaimed state income tax refunds.

I-49 Funding

During the 2005 Regular Legislative Session, the Treasury developed a proposal to use excess annual unclaimed property collections to fund the state’s portion of I-49 North and South. This plan has received final legislative approval and has been signed by the governor into law. Louisiana now has a specific plan in place for funding its portion of I-49, and we will be ready when matching federal funds become available for the project.

The completion of I-49 depends on the Federal Highway Administration funding 80 percent of the cost of the interstate with a required state match of 20 percent. Using an innovative financing plan, the state can now use up to $15 million in excess annual unclaimed property collections to service the debt on between $100 million and $150 million in bonds, the proceeds of which will be divided evenly between I-49 North and I-49 South. No one will lose any unclaimed property in the process, and there will be no increase in taxes.

Finding the state’s match to fund I-49 has been a long time coming, and the Louisiana Legislature should be commended for making it a priority this session. Now that a state match is in place for I-49, our congressional delegation can work to secure federal funds for the project.

The Treasury will continue to work to expand on these and other successes of our unclaimed property program. Our door is always open for your ideas on ways we can make the program even better for Louisiana citizens.

Keep in mind that the state is still holding more than $270 million in unclaimed property. To see if any of this money belongs to you, contact the Unclaimed Property Division toll-free at 1-888-925-4127, or visit www.latreasury.comto search for lost money and file a claim for it online.