The Jindal administration suffered a legislative setback in its efforts to privatize the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) Monday when the House Appropriations Committee voted unanimously to reinstate 149 positions the administration had cut from the OGB budget.
The move came as an amendment to HB 32 by bill author and Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Fannin (D-Jonesboro).
At the same time the committee further amended the bill by deleting five lines that would have directed the state treasurer to transfer a portion of the OGB $500 million surplus into the general fund, thus guaranteeing that the administration may not use part of the surplus to help plug the $1.6 hole in the state budget.
In asking the committee to amend the bill to restore the jobs and to protect the agency surplus, Fannin said, “I have had no communication (from the administration) about any savings to be realized by eliminating these positions.”
Communication has become something of a problem lately as administration officials have refused to attend meetings of the Senate Retirement Committee. Retirement Committee Chairman Sen. Butch Gautreaux (D-Houma) has made no secret of his opposition to efforts to privatize OGB.
Gov. Bobby Jindal has run into considerable opposition to his efforts to privatize OGB although the administration has issued a request for proposals (RFP) for a financial adviser to evaluate the agency and to seek a third party administrator (TPA).
It is the second RFP issued by the administration after Wall Street banking firm Goldman Sachs was the lone bidder on the first and then only after taking part in drafting that RFP.
DOA representatives say that the current RFP was drafted completely in-house.
Former OGB CEO Tommy Teague, who was fired on April 15 after leading OGB from a $60 million deficit when he took over five years ago to its current $500 million surplus, testified before the Senate Retirement Committee that he could not understand the need for a financial adviser if the intent of the administration was only to obtain a TPA.
“It’s not necessary to know the financial situation of the agency just for a TPA,” he said. “The only rationale for a financial assessment would be that the administration plans to sell OGB.”
The original RFP did indeed make repeated references to the sale of the agency and Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater has consistently given conflicting testimony about whether the administration’s intent was to sell the agency or obtain a TPA for OGB’s Preferred Provider Organization (PPO).
Approval of Fannin’s amendment does not necessarily mean that Jindal has failed in his efforts toward privatization of the agency. It does mean, however, that he would have to come back before the legislature to obtain approval for cutting the positions, a move Rainwater claims would save the state $10 million a year.
Even that claim, however, is somewhat vague since the $10 million does not come from the state’s general fund. OGB is completely self-funded, deriving its revenue from premiums charged state employees for health care coverage.