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Archive for the ‘Legislature, Legislators’ Category

CORRECTION:

We were in error when we reported on Saturday that Rep. Jim Fannin (D/R-Jonesboro), chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB) refused a request by Rep. James Armes (D-Leesville) that Rep. Kenny Havard (R-Jackson) be allowed to serve as his proxy at last Friday’s JLCB meeting in Baton Rouge.

LouisianaVoice was unable to contact any of the principals involved over the weekend but we spoke with Armes on Monday and he informed us that it was not Fannin, but House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles) who declined, or simply failed to act on, Armes’ request.

More accurately, it appears now that Kleckley may have indicated he would consent to Armes’ request but either had a change of heart or simply did not follow up. “When I spoke with the speaker, he told me he would take care of it,” Armes said today. “I was unavailable and unable to attend, so I called him (Kleckley) and asked that Rep. Havard be allowed to serve as my proxy. Normally when a member cannot attend, we will try to get someone from the Baton Rouge area to attend and Rep. Havard is only a few miles outside Baton Rouge.

While it may not have been Fannin who dropped the ball on approving a proxy for Armes, it was Fannin who informed committee members after they had convened that the issue of the $178.5 million budget surplus claimed by the administration would not be taken up pending a report by the Legislative Auditor’s office. That report is expected sometime in December. Meanwhile, the state is in budgetary limbo over whether there is a surplus as claimed by Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols or a $141 million deficit as claimed by State Treasurer John Kennedy.

The administration’s sudden “discovery” of $360 million (accumulated since 2002), which it says brought the state out of a $141 million hole to a surplus of $178.5 million has drawn fire from two former commissioners of administration, Raymond Laborde of Marksville and his niece, Stephanie Laborde of Baton Rouge. Raymond Laborde was commissioner during former Gov. Edwin Edwards’ third term of office and Stephanie Laborde (at the time Stephanie Alexander) served during Edwards’ fourth and final term. Both, along with Kennedy, indicated it was highly improbable that that much money could have remained hidden for so long a time.

One source has put the amount closer to $500 million but added that the money has already been spent. If so, that would put the deficit closer to $300 million than the $141 million initially claimed by Kennedy.

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State Treasurer John Kennedy isn’t the only one who disputes the veracity—or the political motives—of administration claims of a $178.5 million budget surplus for the fiscal year that ended on June 30.

There are a couple of Kristy Nichols’ predecessors, former commissioners of administration and a former state budget officer who have been there, done that and got the T-shirts, who are genuinely perplexed and skeptical of the whimsical claims.

Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana), aka Booby Jindini, through Commissioner of Administration Nichols, is claiming the implausible “discovery” of some $360 million, dating back to 2002 that pulls the state from the jaws of a $141 million deficit in favor of the surplus explained thus far only as Immaculate Discovery.

LouisianaVoice, meanwhile, has learned that the true “discovered” money is more like $500 and that it actually goes back as far as 1998, near the end of Gov. Mike “the Jindal Creator” Foster’s second term. But, says Kennedy, the money has already been spent, which would make the real deficit more like $200 million, instead of the mere $141 hole claimed by Kennedy.

But the devil, as they say, is in the details and the details have not been readily forthcoming from the administration. And members of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB) sat mutely Friday morning as committee Chairman Rep. Jim Fannin (D/R-Jonesboro) proclaimed that the committee would not be discussing the matter until it received a report from the Legislative Auditor’s office, probably sometime in December.

What?!!!!!!!” legislators should have sputtered, shouted and otherwise protested.

Sorry, guys, you should have stood as one and protested that the time to discuss this little matter is now and the place is right here. Right here, right now. We want, no, demand an explanation, an accounting of where this money suddenly came from and how it is that the administration did not know of its existence for the past seven years.

And while we’re at it, why is it that Fannin sudden decided to exercise his power to disallow a request by Rep. James Armes (D-Leesville) that a non-member of the JLCB, Rep. Kenny Havard (R-Jackson), be allowed to sit in on the committee as his proxy. Legislative observers cannot recall a time when such a request was denied. Was Fannin afraid Havard might ask some embarrassing questions about the budgetary procedure?

Or was it that Havard was not among the members who had been called in a few at a time in advance of Friday’s meeting to be reminded by the administration that capital outlay projects in their respective districts could suddenly face a lack of funding for their implementation?

Regardless, it is quite obvious from our perspective that the fix is in.

Instead, committee members sat mutely as one as Fannin, desperate to hang onto his chairmanship and reportedly considering a run at the State Senate seat currently held by Sen. Bob Kostelka (R-Monroe), allowed that rather than demanding details and explanations from the administration, there was no urgency to the issue that could not wait until December.

Retired state budget officer Stephen Winham said that in his 21 years in that office, nothing of this magnitude ever occurred.

“The hidden piles of money is a myth,” he said. “There may have been hidden pockets of money before modern accounting and information technology, but it is impossible to hide money in the state treasury today.

“This has to be the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen happen with regard to the state’s financial condition and its reputation,” he said. “How can $500 million simply have been hiding in the state treasury? Do Ms. Nichols and others have any idea how her contention totally undermines the integrity of our financial system? It makes a mockery of our accounting system and our annual Comprehensive Financial Reports for the past 16 years, if not longer, and of our state itself. People already routinely suspected the numbers they were given. Now there is no reason to believe anything.

“I cannot overstate how horrible this is.”

Raymond Laborde and Stephanie Laborde agree.

Raymond Laborde (Stephanie Laborde’s uncle) served as commissioner of administration from 1992 to 1996 under former Gov. Edwin Edwards. Before that, he served five terms in the Louisiana House, serving as Speaker Pro Tem from 1982-1984 and also served as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

He was re-elected without opposition to a sixth term in 1991 but immediately resigned to become Commissioner of Administration during Edwards’ fourth and final term as governor. In 2003, Raymond Laborde was inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.

“I haven’t seen any details yet and neither, apparently has John Kennedy,” he said.

“We had surpluses each year during my tenure, but they were legitimate surpluses. If the money was there, it should have been seen. If Kennedy’s approach is correct, there is a heck of a difference between what the administration says and what he says.”

Reminded that Kennedy has said any money found from prior years has already been spent, Raymond Laborde said, “It should have been spent.”

Stephanie Laborde served as commissioner of administration during Edwards’ third term (1984-1988) when she was Stephanie Alexander.

Her observations were supportive of Winham’s and were equally critical of the administration.

“If the surplus is real, where were those dollars when the budget was being developed 15 months or so ago?” she asked, perhaps not so rhetorically.

“That is not to say when there was not extra money,” she said. “There were times when there were more taxes collected than anticipated or when the price of oil was higher than expected but for this much in surplus funds to be lying around for years? That just didn’t happen.”

She also said the sources of such revenue would have been considered one-time money and not recurring revenue. “There is a difference of philosophy, a difference of opinion with the character of funds found in the past.

“But it still comes down to where was this money during the budget writing process, where was it, in fact, for all these years?

“If it was there, it speaks to the administration’s competence, its ability—or inability—to give us an accurate budget.

“If the money was not there as is being claimed, it speaks to something else entirely,” she said.

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Call it what you will—strong-armed politics, intimidation, extortion, blackmail or bribery—the result is the same: the fix appears to be in on the administration’s claim of a $178.5 million budget surplus developed by a “new and improved” accounting procedure.

Except the numbers don’t seem to add up to a surplus, but rather the possibility of an even greater deficit that first indicated by State Treasurer John Kennedy.

LouisianaVoice has learned that the $320 million in mystery money suddenly discovered by the administration and trumpeted by Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols may actually be $500 million or more. But even that may be suspect in the way it affects whether or not there is an actual surplus or in reality, a deficit.

As an indication that the administration was taking care of business, LouisianaVoice also learned that members of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB) had been called in by the governor’s office in groups of two and three over the past several days for “come to Jesus” meetings in order to dissipate opposition to the administration before it can develop.

In those meetings, committee members supposedly were not-so-subtly reminded of pending capital outlay projects in their respective districts that could sudden be placed in peril should the wrong questions get asked in committee.

But hey, folks, if you think the Jindal administration is the gold standard of ethics and wouldn’t really do that, you are so very wrong. Nothing that has taken place over the past six-plus years that would invalidate a comparison to Huey and Earl Long.

The circling of the wagons even went so far as JLCB Chairman Jim Fannin’s (R-Jonesboro) refusal of an otherwise routine request by one committee member to allow a fellow House member represent him as a proxy at today’s (Friday, Oct. 17) meeting in order to ensure there would be no surprises at the meeting.

Committee chairmen must approve a request from any committee member to have a non-member of that committee sit in as his or her proxy.

Even the meeting itself appeared to be a sham. When the committee convened at 9 a.m. Friday, Fannin announced he would not take up the issue over the budget surplus/deficit until the legislative auditor could provide a report on the financial picture.

It is extremely rare for a committee chairman to deny a request for a proxy, but when Rep. James Armes (D-Leesville) asked that Rep. Kenny Havard (R-Jackson) be allowed to sit as his proxy, Fannin refused. Efforts by LouisianaVoice to reach Havard for a comment were unsuccessful.

But if you watched any of the proceedings of the House Appropriations Committee on Sept. 25 which met to hear testimony about the proposed changes to the state’s group benefits plan, it’s easy to understand Fannin’s actions.

Fannin also chairs the Appropriations Committee and during that Sept. 25 meeting, Havard asked some pretty tough questions of Nichols and OGB CEO Susan West.

Havard probably represents more state employees as constituents in East and West Feliciana parishes than any other representative outside Baton Rouge because of the presence of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and the Louisiana War Veterans Home and East Louisiana State Hospital in Jackson. So naturally, he would be concerned about the hardship the OGB changes are going to impose on state employees and retirees.

Accordingly, it was only natural that Fannin would not want any surprises during the committee hearing which turned out to be no hearing at all so Armes’ otherwise routine proxy request was rejected out of hand.

Fannin, who several months ago, switched from Democrat to Republican and is firmly ensconced in the Jindal camp (though it’s difficult to understand why anyone would throw his lot in with this governor whose popularity in Louisiana rivals only that of President Obama—other than his apparent desperation to hang onto his chairmanship), so it’s understandable, in a quirky sort of way, that he would do the administration’s bidding.

In fact, LouisianaVoice has also learned that Fannin has a report from the administration that contains a year-by-year breakdown as to where the mystery dollars came from to make up the surprise surplus.

That report is not public and Fannin is supposedly the only legislator who is privy to its existence and its contents.

The numbers, we are told, go all the way back to 1998, during the latter part of the Mike Foster administration, instead of to 2002 as originally reported, and the money consists of self-generated funds the Foster, Blanco and Jindal administrations never recognized for appropriations.

So, when Jindal faced a real deficit at the end of the fiscal year just ended on June 30, he scraped the bottom of the barrel, figurative and literally, to come up with the funds and voila! The amount was more in the neighborhood of $500 million instead of the $360 first reported.

The problem is, however, the $500 million may have already been spent and if so, it would create an actual deficit of some $360 million instead of the $141 million initially claimed by Kennedy. And it certainly would not create a surplus.

And taking the scenario to its logical conclusion in this Alice in Wonderland world of Louisiana politics, State Treasurer John Kennedy, the one person who should be the one kept abreast of all budgetary developments, the one person responsible for accounting for every dollar spent, is being kept in the dark along with other legislators who would like to have some answers.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, instead of sitting at her desk and sniping at Kennedy for questioning her numbers, could just as easily pick up the phone and call Kennedy to invite him over, or even offer to walk across Third Street, take the elevator up to the third floor of the State Capitol, and sit down with the Treasurer and explain how the administration arrived at its numbers.

A truly transparent, ethical and accountable administration owes the citizens of this state that much at a minimum.

But don’t hold your breath.

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Editor’s note: State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) sparred verbally with Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols and Office of Group Benefits (OGB) CEO Susan West at the Sept. 25 hearing by the House Appropriations Committee on proposed coverage plans for OGB members. Edwards, the minority leader of the House and Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, is an announced candidate for governor in 2015.  He wrote the following piece in an effort to display his frustration over his inability to obtain definitive answers or public documents and records from the administration—and to explain how the administration, as a matter of routine, conceals information from legislators.

By State Rep. John Bel Edwards

At a committee meeting convened last month to address the fiscal “emergency,” at the Office of Group Benefits, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols testified that the premium reductions in 2013 and 2014 that drained OGB’s $500 million fund balance were fiscally sound.

At that hearing, I repeatedly asked if OGB’s actuary – Buck Consultants – had recommended those premium reductions and if they recommended reducing the fund balance. Nichols and an OGB CEO Susan West repeatedly refused to answer. I, along with other legislators at the hearing, asked for copies of Buck Consultants’ recommendations.

Weeks later and I’m still waiting for those reports.

What I do have is an email from Buck Consultants to the OGB CEO that clearly states: “We did not recommend a decrease of 7% effective August 1, 2012, or an additional decrease of 1.77% effective August 1, 2013. Further, we were not asked to provide any recommended rate adjustments for any fiscal years beyond what we provided for Fiscal Year 2012/2013.”

Of course the actuary did not recommend cutting premiums by almost 9 % while health care costs are rising by 6% a year. The consultants knew that would be irresponsible and cause claims payments to greatly exceed premium revenue and drain OGB’s fund balance.

Clearly, the OGB premium reductions that ran the fund balance into the ditch were not actuarially driven. Those premium reductions were driven by the Jindal administration’s desire to spend OGB’s fund balance elsewhere in the budget. When OGB reduced premiums, 75% of the savings went to the state and the Jindal administration was able to spend that money wherever they wanted.

Now that the fund balance is drained and still hemorrhaging at the rate of $16 million a month, the Jindal administration called this self-inflicted wound an “emergency” and proposed raising costs to OGB members – those working and those retired – by $189 million. These higher out-of-pocket expenses will not be shared by the state.

Our state workers, school teachers, support workers, and university staff and faculty and retirees cannot afford this. They do not deserve this. About 25,000 of our retired OGB members are not eligible for Medicare, and many active OGB members bring home as little as $700 per month.

I asked the Attorney General’s Office for an opinion about the legality of Jindal’s effort to unilaterally impose new plans with the exorbitant out of pocket cost increases on workers and retirees. The attorney general’s opinion shows Jindal failed to comply with the Administrative Procedure Act.

This entire debacle has thankfully been slowed down to ensure public notice, public input and legislative oversight as legally required. It is critically important that the administration act in good faith and genuinely consider the testimony and the plight of affected OGB members as well as its own culpability in needlessly causing the “emergency.”

The Jindal administration must honestly answer subsequent inquiries from the public and from legislators and seek ways to lessen the impact to OGB members. The administration must ditch the ill-conceived plan changes and start from scratch with a willingness to increase premiums reasonably and share in the costs of restoring the soundness of OGB.

The recently discovered $178.5M surplus provides the means to both shore up the fund balance and reduce the cost increases on OGB members. The illegal cost increase forced on OGB members in August must be refunded without forcing members to formally request or sue for the refund.

The legislature must finally assert itself as an independent and equal branch of government to provide exactly the kind of check and balance on the Jindal administration provided by the Louisiana Constitution and demanded by the people of Louisiana. We now have this opportunity as there will be legislative oversight hearings on both the emergency and ordinary rules. We must rise to the occasion.

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            The scene is a cheesy carnival with a sleazy barker trying to coax indifferent passersby into a tent sideshow that is certain to be equal parts hype and fraudulence. You can almost hear his voice as he drones:

            “Step right up folks and see the Amazing Jindini perform his astounding, incredible, UNBELIEVABLE escapes from the perils of political reality! You won’t believe your eyes!

            “Watch and don’t dare blink as his lovely assistant, Kristy, the glib but treacherous attack lady, maneuvers Jindini into inescapable positions right here in Louisiana only to see him emerge, smiling and unruffled, somewhere in Iowa. Or will it be New Hampshire, or maybe on Fox News or even in a Washington Post op-ed?

            “And if this political life-threatening feat should somehow go wrong, if the magically transcendent budgetary numbers don’t add up, hold your breath because Kristy will find a way to blame the whole thing on Jindini’s evil nemesis John Kennedy.

            “It’s implausible, it’s dumbfounding, it’s far-fetched, but ladies and gentlemen, it’s everything you could ever imagine—and then some—in the fantasy world of the Great Jindini: deception, misdirection, transference of responsibility, denial, obfuscation. Political contributions become political favors right before your very eyes. Step right up, folks! You don’t want to miss the Amazing Jindini.”

Such is the descent into the cheap theatrics of political rhetoric and finger-pointing from the Jindal administration these days as Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana), through Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, attempts to deflect the blame for fiscal recklessness onto State Treasurer John Kennedy—or anyone else who dares get in the way.

The latest twist in what is the ongoing soap opera of the Jindal administration, Nichols has claimed that a $178.5 million year-end surplus has suddenly materialized, seemingly out of nothing more than the sheer will of Jindal to appear as a fiscal guru in his tragicomic pursuit of the White House.

LouisianaVoice, meanwhile, has learned that a national bond rating company isn’t buying into the rosy fiscal picture painted by the Division of Administration (D)A) and in fact, feels that by all previous measures, a budget deficit as claimed by Kennedy is the more likely scenario.

When Kennedy challenged the surplus figure, claiming instead that the state in reality had a $141 million deficit, Kristy’s vitriol was unleashed on the Treasurer in quick measure, claiming that Kennedy was responsible for “sweeping” agency funds that have not been appropriated or spent by the end of each fiscal year. She added that while the Treasury had used the money for cash flow, it never included it in the year-end report presented to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB).

Nearly seven years into Jindal’s term, Nichols opined that it was “disappointing” that Kennedy never reported these balances to the public.

That, of course, should raise the obvious question of why no one in Jindal’s cadre of sycophants has raised the issue before now.

At the same time, Nichols denied Kennedy’s claim that the administration had changed the accounting system from accrual to cash. Bear in mind, however, it was this same Nichols who told the House Appropriations Committee on Sept. 25 (just before she ducked out to take her daughter to a boy band concert in New Orleans) that it was Buck Consultants who recommended a decrease in premiums for Office of Group Benefits members when the actual report submitted by Buck did nothing of the sort.

Kennedy, for his part, released a prepared statement on Wednesday, saying that as Treasurer, he is constitutionally responsible “for the custody, investment and disbursement of state funds. It is a job that I take very seriously. At least three times a year, the Treasury sends a comprehensive report to the administration about every penny, nickel and dime in the state general fund and the Treasury is audited every year by the legislative auditor.”

Kennedy also said that as Treasurer, he is not responsible “for ensuring that the administration is truthful with legislators and the public about the amount of money that can be appropriated from the state general fund. It is the administration’s responsibility to take our reports and tell legislators and the Revenue Estimating Conference about any and all available money instead of creating a secret slush fund.”

Kennedy said it is clear that the state spent more money than it brought in during the fiscal year that ended on June 30. “We have a $141 million deficit,” he said. “It’s also clear that the administration wants to use its own secret slush fund to resolve the problem while blaming others for the mess.” He called the administration’s figures “a manufactured surplus.”

“I don’t blame them,” he added. “I wouldn’t want to be held responsible for the bad budget practices that drove the Office of Group Benefits into financial ruin, drained the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly, and crippled our universities. As Treasurer, I’ll continue to be a watchdog over the people’s money.” He said if the Legislature wants him to take charge of the budget, “I am more than happy to take on those responsibilities.”

Legislators will get a chance to ask their own questions when the JLCB convenes on Friday in the Capitol.

Meanwhile, Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said there no way of knowing if the administration’s claim of a $178 million surplus is valid until a thorough audit has been conducted.

“This is a different way of looking at what is surplus,” he said. “The bottom line is…until we have audited it, I can’t tell you if it’s a good number or bad number or what.”

In contradicting Nichol’s claim that the accounting system was changed by the administration, Purpera said the new figures represents a sudden departure from the method employed since 1997. “This is not the way they have calculated it before,” he said.

Even the administration could not verify the source of the surplus, saying only that it was “not exactly clear, but we are confident it is there,” according to DOA communications director Meghan Parrish.

Jindal desperately needs to avoid the prospect of a budget deficit if he is to continue his quest for the presidency. A budget hole at this juncture would severely wound, perhaps mortally, his oft-repeated claim that he has balanced the Louisiana budget every year of his administration.

That threat alone would go far in explaining the administration’s sudden frenzy in spinning a favorable fiscal tale contrived to propel him into the White House via fantasy land—or Iowa or New Hampshire.

Just another day in the wacky world of Jindini escapism, folks.

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Liz Murrill, the texting attorney who advised Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols that the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) was not necessary because the changes in the state’s Office of Group Benefits (OGB) plans did not meet the legal definition of “rule,” is gone.

Murrill sparred verbally with legislators during the Sept. 25 hearing on the proposed changes to OGB coverage of state employees and retirees by the House Appropriations Committee, telling them the APA was unnecessary in order that the Division of Administration (DOA) might implement huge increases to co-pays and deductibles that OGB members would be required to pay.

Throughout emotional testimony by OGB members who said their health care expenses might exceed their monthly pensions and others who related problems experienced with MedImpact, the state’s $350 million pharmacy benefit manager, Murrill could be seen texting while seated immediately behind witnesses. One observer said virtually the entire DOA staff sitting in the audience was also texting during testimony but only Murrill was constantly visible on the video being streamed live via the Internet.

But as embarrassing as that should have been to the administration, it was probably her advice that the APA was legally unnecessary.

Even an attorney general’s opinion released on Sept. 23, two days before the Appropriations Committee hearing failed to convince Murrill of her shaky legal position.

The opinion said the Jindal administration simply ignored the APA which requires a certain amount of publicity, public comment and legislative review before policy changes can be adopted.

But Murrill was quick to voice her difference with Assistant Attorney General Emily Andrews who authored the opinion at the request of State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite).

“We fundamentally disagree that the schedule of benefits meets the legal definition of ‘rule’ in the APA,” she said, “because it does not apply to the general public or any subset of the regulated public.”

Both Nichols and Murrill were grilled by a procession of legislators at the hearing, many of whom were not members of the Appropriations Committee but nevertheless had questions they wanted to ask on behalf of constituents.

At the times the exchanges became tinged with poorly concealed animosity as Nichols and Murrill fielded questions from one legislator after another once OGB members were finished with their testimony. The pair allowed their contempt for legislators surface from time to time while Legislators let it be known that they were losing patience with Jindal and his minions.

Murrill, while at the witness table, adamantly refused to concede that APA was required to be adhered to but on Tuesday (Oct. 14), once DOA had been called out on the matter and Murrill was out of the picture, APA notices of intent began going out toe legislators.

Once away from the table and back in the audience, she resumed her texting.

Now she has all the time she needs for texting.

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If the Retired State Employees Association (RSEA) goes forward with filing a legal challenge to the proposed changes to health care coverage for state employees, retirees and their dependents, it may have a significant hook on which to hang its case in a report submitted by a company contracted by the Jindal administration which attempted to base its plan changes at least in part on that same report.

If you’re confused, you should be for Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols laid the decision to make the changes in the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) plan at the feet of Buck Consultants but the firm’s report is in direct contradiction to the testimony of Nichols at the Sept. 25 hearing of the House Appropriations Committee.

The proposed health benefit changes are so radical for some 230,000 OGB members that the RSEA has scheduled a meeting with a law firm which has tentatively agreed to take the case on a pro bono basis, says Frank Jobert, RSEA’s executive director. http://theadvocate.com/sports/southern/10465870-123/retirees-considering-legal-challenge

RSEA is looking at the failure to go through the necessary legal procedures for approval of changes in plan benefits and “diverting” money from the OGB fund balance which has dwindled from a high of more than $500 million to less than half that amount and which is projected to go broke next year if changes are not implemented.

Nichols has consistently blamed the financial condition of OGB on rising costs she attributed to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Critics, however, point to three straight years of decreased premiums that allowed the state to commit fewer state funds to its 75 percent match which in turn allowed the administration to divert those monies to cover budget holes even as the reserve fund continued to shrink.

Nichols was consistently evasive when asked during last month’s hearings of the House Appropriations Committee, three times managing to evade the direct question of who the actuary was who recommended decreases in premiums over three consecutive years.

Finally, State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite), who had already asked the question once without getting an answer, observed, “In fiscal 2013, there was a 7.11 percent reduction in premiums followed by 1.8 percent even though health care costs were going up by 6 percent.”

In questioning Nichols during the Appropriations Committee hearing, Edwards had accused the administration of taking a “self-manufactured crisis” and turning it into an emergency “because we had a fund balance that was healthy.

“We had OGB members who were relatively happy with the plan and today we have an unhealthy fund balance and OGB members who are very unhappy.”

He then asked again, “What actuary told you these reductions were sound?”

Nichols, who was already halfway out the door—before the committee meeting adjourned—on her way to taking her daughter to a One Direction boy band concert in the New Orleans Smoothie King Arena where she watched from the luxury box assigned to Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana), replied, “Buck Consulting recommended a 2.25 percent decrease for calendar 2012.”

http://louisianavoice.com/2014/10/01/watching-kristy-kreme-nichols-responding-to-legislators-like-watching-jerry-lewis-movie-mixture-of-exasperation-humor/

Well, not exactly. When one reads pages ii and iii of the summary report of the Buck Consultants Actuarial Valuation at 7/1/2013, a starkly different message is conveyed.

http://www.doa.louisiana.gov/osrap/library/afr%20packetts/2014OGB_OPEBValuationReport.pdf

On Page ii, under the CLAIMS AND PREMIUM EXPERIENCE heading, the report says:

  • “Overall, the plan had favorable claims experience, resulting in a gain. The gain was offset by losses associated with premiums not increasing as expected. See Substantive Plan discussions below.”

Under SUBSTANTIVE PLAN on Page iii, the report says:

  • “It is our understanding that the Plan premium rates, used both to determine contributions from the various employer agencies and to set contributions required from the retirees, were set artificially low to draw down the OGB’s reserve fund… (emphasis added.) As noted above, premium rates were again lower than expected for this year’s valuation.”

Moreover, an email from Buck Consultants representative Tom Tomczyk to OGB CEO Susan West dated Sept. 28 (three days after the Appropriations Committee hearing) says, “The 2.25percent (rate decrease) was not a recommendation for January 1, 2012, but only used to validate our projections for the Fiscal Year 2012-2013. We did not recommend a decrease of 7 percent effective August 1, 2012, or an additional decrease of 1.77 percent effective August 1, 2013. Further, we were not asked to provide any recommended rate adjustments for any fiscal year beyond what we provided for Fiscal Year 2012-2013.”

In fact, according to that same email, Tomczyk said Buck Consultants was asked in late 2011 for its projection of the indicated rate increase for Fiscal Year 2012-2013. “At that time, based on the most recent claims information available, we projected a rate increase (emphasis added) of 1.75 percent needed as of July 1, 2012.”

An earlier email, on Nov. 12, 2013, from Tomczyk to West’s predecessor, Charles Calvi, who served as CEO of OGB from Jan. 9, 2012, to Jan 31, 2014, concluded, “We have not been asked to provide recommendations for rate adjustments since calendar year 2012.”

The consulting firm’s report, dated July 2014, noted significant decreases in several areas of net liabilities to OGB and gains in areas that benefitted the agency’s bottom line, according to two financial experts who were shown the report.

“As I see it, the Buck report directly contradicts the way Ms. Nichols has presented this,” one said. “Unless I do not understand plain English, Buck says, ‘Overall, the plan had favorable claims experience, resulting in a gain.’ How can a clear gain be a loss by anybody’s definition?”

He noted the following:

  • The actuarial accrued liability (AAL) for July 2013 was $103 million less than what had been projected in July of 2012, meaning that OGB was in better shape on July 1, 2013, than had been predicted. The AAL also increased by only $157 from last year when it had been projected to increase by $260 million.
  • The amount paid in claims was less than predicted and actually decreased the AAL by $195 million—and would have decreased it even more had premiums not been less than projected.
  • The report clearly attributes a loss to OGB of $388 million—totally a result of reduced premiums through Fiscal Year 2012 and that this loss was increased by additional decreases in premium rates in Fiscal Year 2013.
  • The report, on Page iv, minimizes the effect of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on these calculations and points out that the ACA provided improvements in Part D coverage.

“I am frankly shocked at this report and what has been said about this whole thing by others,” he said. “Either I am totally stupid or it blows all previous explanations away.”

Edwards, commenting on the contents of the Buck Consultants report, said, “Nothing in this supports Kristy Nichols.”

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