Archive for the ‘Revenue’ Category

Two days before statewide elections, Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon, who refused to involve himself in the State Office of Group Benefits controversy because, he insisted, the state employee health insurance was not insurance, has suddenly become a consumer advocate over those delinquent fee letters sent out by the Office of Motor Vehicles (OMV) on Oct. 13.

Never mind that OGB provides health insurance to about 230,000 state employees, retirees and dependents and never mind that it was taken over by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana (a major contributor to Donelon’s campaigns).

Never mind that the Louisiana Department of Insurance approved the purchase of two insurance companies in 2013 by an individual who had little industry experience and never mind that both companies were seized by regulators within a year when it was learned that Alexander Chatfield Burns allegedly siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars in stocks and bonds off the company’s books, replacing them with worthless assets.

Never mind that in 2012 Donelon put former state legislator Noble Ellington on the payroll as a $150,000 per year as the department’s number-two man despite Ellington’s glaring lack of experience in insurance.

Never mind that Donelon did little to rein in auto insurance companies that were trying to steer auto repairs to favored body shops that were accused of doing unsafe work and providing after-market parts.

Never mind that Donelon has been the beneficiary of more than $4.5 million in campaign contributions from insurance companies and insurance defense attorneys since 2006.

That was then. This is now and now is only two days before Donelon is to face a challenge from three opponents in Saturday’s election. So of course, he wades into the controversy over those 1.2 million delinquent notices sent out to motorists that OMV claims owe fines for various offenses dating as far back as 1986 (29 years if you’re doing the math).

LouisianaVoice first wrote about this back on Sept. 29 when we observed that none of the $11 million earmarked to pay for state police pay raises through the “enhanced debt collection efforts” by OMV has been submitted to the state general fund.

That was first made known in a confidential report prepared for legislators obtained by LouisianaVoice.

House Bill 638 by State Rep. Barry Ivey (R-Baton Rouge) was enacted and signed into law by Bobby Jindal as Act 414. HB 638 provided that the Department of Public Safety (DPS) collect certain fees “associated with the suspension of an operator’s license” which were related to auto liability insurance requirements. The fees become delinquent after 60 days and are referred to the Office of Debt Recovery.

The bill earmarked $25 million from the Debt Recovery Fund for use by the Office of State Police. But none of that money has yet to go to the general fund, prompting concern by legislators and resulting in the report.

Legislative watchdog and resident curmudgeon C.B. Forgotston way back on Jan. 16 of this year questioned the constitutionality of an earlier bill by Ivey, HB 872, passed during the 2014 regular legislative session which added a $75 fee for the reinstatement of a driver’s lapsed auto liability insurance. HB 872 was to generate about $53 million per year with $42 million earmarked for the general operations of DPS, $7 million to housing parolees and $1 million to district attorneys.

Forgotston said HB 872 was called a “fee,” but in actuality, is an unconstitutionally-passed “tax.” The reason for its being unconstitutional is the Louisiana State Constitution of 1974 which says “No measure levying or authorizing a new tax by the state or by any statewide political subdivision whose boundaries are coterminous with the state; increasing an existing tax by the state or by any statewide political subdivision whose boundaries are coterminous with the state; or legislating with regard to tax exemptions, exclusions, deductions or credits shall be introduced or enacted during a regular session held in an even-numbered year.” http://senate.la.gov/Documents/Constitution/Article3.htm

But in the make-believe world of Jindal politics, the Office of Group Benefits is not insurance and a fee is not a tax. That ranks right up there with Bill Clinton’s “It depends on what your definition of is is.”

But back to HB 638 (ACT 414). Just in case you need a reminder just two days before the election, that bill passed unanimously in the House and with just one dissenting vote in the Senate (State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson voted no). Here are the links to the votes of the two chambers just in case you need a handy guide before casting your ballot on Saturday:



And now on the eve of many of those same legislators’ re-election efforts, the bill is creating pure havoc throughout the state.


Well, consider this. If you had a vehicle you purchased in 1976, say, and you traded it in in 1987. You would have cancelled your insurance and license plate on that vehicle and transferred everything to your new vehicle. But suppose by some clerical error, OMV did not get the word that you sold or traded that old vehicle and suddenly, on Oct. 13 of this year, a delinquent notice went out to you because you have not had insurance on your 1976 vehicle for 28 years. The onus is on you to prove that you had a legitimate reason for not insuring that vehicle or face a fine of $500—or more.

Donelon said, correctly, that the average citizen most likely does not have documentation to prove he or she had insurance because no one keeps proof of insurance from a decade or more ago.

So now you have your notice and you know it’s in error so naturally, you try to call OMV only to encounter what seems to be a permanent busy signal. And if you happen to get through, your call is dropped.

And let’s not forget that Jindal, in his maniacal obsession to privatize everything in state government, contracted out many of the OMV services and laid off scores of OMV employees, so good luck with trying to reach someone to help you.

Many of the 1.2 million who received the letters (at a cost to taxpayers of about $500,000) are claiming that they are accused of offenses that are nothing more than paperwork errors and State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson is now saying OMV will not pursue any delinquent fines older than 2006 for which OMV does not have proper documentation.

We at LouisianaVoice are of the opinion that any violation allowed to lie dormant by OMV for more than one year with no effort to collect same should be dismissed. Certainly after three years. After all, in Louisiana, if you wait for more than 12 months after being wronged, your case has prescribed and you are unable to file a lawsuit.

That’s 20 years, or 69 percent right off the top of the anticipated $53 million in additional revenue the Jindal administration so desperately needed to patch over holes in the state budget. Edmonson also said the fact that $11 million of that $53 million was to fund pay increases for state troopers had nothing to do with the notices mailed out on Oct. 13.

Donelon, who regulates the insurance industry in Louisiana, OGB notwithstanding, suggested that drivers should not trust OMV records and should call the governor’s office with grievances.

Would that be the governor’s office have an Iowa area code, by any chance?

One reader had a slightly different experience. Here is her account as related to LouisianaVoice in a recent email:

            My husband just recently retired 20 years of service in the Army, and we’ve been under contract to buy a home for the first time, in Sulphur.  I’m a La native, so we’ve decided to settle here.

            Today, we had to switch our insurance companies because the one we’ve had together since married in 2006, and he’s had for many years even before that, has decided in their policy that simply residing in Louisiana means that our insurance must be raised because I suppose something about this State is more risky than Texas, Kentucky, Alabama, or Georgia (all of the states we’ve resided in that our insurance remained unchanged).

            Which brings me around to what I have to say. I’d like to explain how I turned a $200 oops into a $566 OMG today.

            While attempting to change insurance companies, they ran my driver’s license. Standard.

            My license came back as suspended. Later, at the DMV, I was informed not only was my license suspended, but there had been issued a bench warrant for my arrest.

            It was a seat belt ticket I got four years ago, and speeding ticket I received one year ago. I forgot to pay it. Over my driving career (I’m 39 years old and I’ve owned 2 Corvettes), I’ve gotten more than one speeding ticket, and more than once, I’ve forgotten to pay it.

            However, this was my first in the state of Louisiana, as I’ve lived in Texas for the majority of my adulthood, and the rest in the previous states mentioned. I never received a notice in the mail, warning me of an impending suspension of my license, nor did I receive any notice or warning that a warrant was being issued for my arrest. ALL of which I have received from Texas, giving me an opportunity to address it.  I mentioned that fact to the lady at the DA’s office when I arrived to deal with it, and she informed me that “they don’t notify anyone for these things.”  So, my license was suspended, and there was a warrant for my arrest, yet the State makes no effort prior to this result, as Texas does, to notify me?  No.

            They don’t.

            I had a moment of terrible dread and relief at the same time.  I found out because I was changing insurance companies and they told me.

            I looked up the consequences for driving with a suspended license, had I found out by being pulled over, and they are very harsh.  It carries a minimum fine of $300, up to $7500 and seven days jail time.  All because I forgot to pay a speeding ticket.

            After paying the ticket, I returned to the OMV, where I had to pay another $102 to “unsuspend” my license, because paying the ticket + late fine wasn’t enough for the State to teach me a lesson.

            While I waited in line, it occurred to me the terrible impact this could have on so many Louisiana families and college students.  It seems unrealistic that no one would ever forget to pay a ticket, or even that it would be rare. I wondered if something so simple could be common, but with such crazy, harsh financial consequences, especially if jailed. Suddenly, a DMV employee came out and made the announcement that they were severely understaffed—thanks to Bobby Jindal’s cutbacks (I had already been waiting almost 2 hours at this point) and began to group all of us based on our issues.

            Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised that a great many of the people there ended up in the same group as me, dealing with the very same problem. A very expensive problem. A problem that likely could have been prevented for most if not all of us, with a simple notice in the mail.

            For me, the total was over $500 to get my license reinstated and ticket paid. There were at least 20 people in line with me. I estimate the OMV likely collected a minimum of $10,000 in about three hours, just from my line. Nearly $30,000 in an average eight-hour work day in fines just from suspended licenses for the most undeserving of reasons from the most vulnerable class of people, yet still were “understaffed” to ridiculousness and a majority of the people I was in line with would probably love to have a job there.  That’s $150,000 a week! $600,000 a month! $7.2 million a year!

            I have no clue where all of this money goes, or what it pays for, since clearly it isn’t on staffing. The debit card reader wasn’t working so I was forced to an ATM and the clerk I was with struggled endlessly with her computer mouse and what I believed to be serious system lag, so equipment certainly isn’t eating funds.

            Maybe this all seems trivial, but truly, it didn’t seem trivial to anyone I was in line with.  There was sadness, fear, and dread on the faces of all of them.  It was really heartbreaking, and worse, I feel like it likely could have all been prevented with a simple notice in the mail. People are given around 60 days to pay a ticket in Louisiana. It is as though the state counts on many of them being forgotten, and without notice, having their license suspended, and likely many of them discovering this and getting a memory jog by being pulled over for something insignificant, and being put in handcuffs, with a massive fine they can’t pay, and seven days in jail.

            I am fortunate enough to be able to pay it and still eat, but I think the look on all of those people’s faces in line with me at the OMV will keep me up tonight. It’s already nearly 1 am, and I’m still bothered by it.

            I can’t help but wonder how many people in Louisiana, living their lives, taking care of children, going to work, etc., forget to pay a speeding ticket, and it’s the one thing that knocks them into a hole they can’t get out of;  but they check their mail every day.

            I’ve been in a lot of places over the last 20 years. Texas to Wisconsin to Connecticut to Georgia to Louisiana. I see more people struggling here than anywhere else I’ve been in the U.S.

            I can’t help but think this no-notice high penalty cost system is contributing to bleeding the average Louisianan driving to work and back, to death. Maybe it’s nothing. I think it’s something.  Something that must effect the lives of a lot of people.

            If a simple notice in the mail could save Louisiana citizens and families $7.2 million a year, I think a lot of people would like to know why it isn’t done.

Read Full Post »


We couldn’t resist this one from our favorite cartoonist. (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

The timing could not have been better—or worse, depending upon your perspective.

But all things considered, Wednesday was a bad day for a certain Louisiana governor flailing away in a doomed quest for the Republican presidential nomination.

If he posed so much as a remote threat against any of his Republican opponents for the Republican presidential nomination, today’s events would surely be used against him in an campaign ad blitz. But he doesn’t and they won’t.

On the one hand, there was the survey released Wednesday (Sept. 24) by 24/7 Wall Street, the service that publishes all sorts of survey results from the best-selling cars to the worst-performing state governments. The latest survey shows Louisiana to be the fifth worst-educated state in the nation.

On the other, there was the story, also on Wednesday, that said Louisiana’s public colleges and universities have been told to “be prudent” with their current budgets—a not-so veiled way of saying get ready for more budget cuts.

The U.S., in case you haven’t been paying attention, has some of the most expensive college educations in the world—and the expenses have risen to record highs, the survey said. In fact, the cost of a college education has increased faster than the rate of inflation—24 percent just since 2012,

Only 22.9 percent of adults in Louisiana hold at least a bachelor’s degree, which ranks 46th in the nation and well below the national average of more than 30 percent. That puts the state two notches behind Alabama’s 23.5 percent and ranked higher than only Kentucky (22.2 percent), Arkansas (21.4 percent), Mississippi (21.1 percent), and West Virginia (19.2 percent). Massachusetts had the highest with 41.2 percent of its adults having attained at least a bachelor’s degree.

In fact, Louisiana ranks just ahead of our next door neighbor in so many surveys that rumor has it there may be a bill introduced in the next legislative session to change the state’s motto from “Union, Justice and Confidence” to “Hey, At Least We Aren’t Mississippi.”

Louisiana had the fourth lowest percentage (83.6 percent) of high school graduates.

Louisiana also ranked seventh lowest with a median household income of $44,555 in 2014 and even those among the 22.9 had the seventh lowest median earnings ($46,903) for bachelor degree holders. Even more depressing is the fact that the median income for holders of bachelor’s degrees managed to pull the overall median average up by less than $2,500 per year.

Nearly one in five Louisianians live below the poverty line, the third highest poverty rate in the nation. This, in a state with three of the 10 busiest ports in the nation (including the busiest, the Port of South Louisiana, and the 4th and 10th busiest, New Orleans and Baton Rouge) and three of the nation’s largest refineries (Marathon in Garyville, Exxon in Baton Rouge, and Citgo in Lake Charles).

Moreover, the state is embarrassingly rich in chemical plants, oil and gas reserves, sulfur, agriculture and seafood. But still we consistently lag behind the rest of the nation in every conceivable measure of progress and prosperity.

And yet, here we are, teetering at the edge of yet another midyear budget shortfall, or as State Treasurer John Kennedy said, “We have hit the trifecta, but not in a good way.” He was talking about the news that we have just learned that we’re going to have to make up for last fiscal year which ended June 30 with a deficit (though Bobby Jindal and Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols won’t say how much). Together, Kennedy said, the combined shortfalls for last fiscal year and the current year combine to paint a bleak picture for next year as well, as the combined deficit is expected to approach $1 billion.

(Note to Kristy: Don’t let the door hit you on the backside as you exit next month on the way to grab your golden parachute with Ochsner Health System.)

Though the Jindal administration isn’t saying much about the latest crisis (you have to wonder how Bobby will spin this in his fiscal responsibility message on the GOP presidential campaign trail), Kennedy at least doesn’t duck the issue. He estimates it to be more than $100 million.

This budgetary news comes on top of the Medicaid shortfall of more than $300 million, a TOPS fund which is projected to be $19 million short and word that Jindal’s ill-fated hospital privatization plan has hit yet another major setback.

LSU, citing a breach of the public purpose, terminated its cooperative endeavor agreement with the Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana (BRF) barely two years after the foundation took over operation of two north Louisiana hospitals.

Saying all avenues to resolve differences had been exhausted, LSU President F. King Alexander said that Academic Health of North Louisiana Hospital Management Co., Inc., will take over operation of University Health Shreveport and University Health Conway.

It was so bad for Jindal that he missed a golden opportunity when the Pope spoke to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.

When President Obama visited New Orleans on the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina last month, Jindal sent a message asking that the President not talk about climate change when he came here. But when he had the opportunity to offer that same advice to Pope Francis, Jindal, a Roman Catholic, remained mute.

Perhaps he was just too busy traveling around Iowa telling anyone who would listen (that would be Timmy Teepell and Kyle Plotkin) what a great job he has done as governor of Louisiana and how he is uniquely qualified to run the country.

We are reminded of the Winston Churchill quote about Clement Atlee that could be adapted so easily to our governor: An empty taxi pulled up in front of the Iowa caucus and Bobby Jindal got out.

Read Full Post »

Bobby Jindal calls it leadership.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate State Rep. John Bel Edwards was somewhat blunter. He said it was more like the Wizard of Oz: “No brains, no courage, no spine.”

Timmy Teepell is just beside himself and wanted everyone to be sure to see what Bobby said about it, so he sent it around to the same email recipient list and LouisianaVoice is lucky enough to be on that exclusive list.

We are, of course, talking about the ludicrous SAVE bill that saves nothing and which creates phony money in the form of tax credits to cover a phantom increase in college tuition that won’t generate any revenue for the state while not really saving higher education.

Got it? Great. Neither did we. FISCAL NOTES TO SB 93

Incredibly, after all the political posturing, the letter to Grover Norquist (who apparently holds the reins that control the Louisiana Legislature, though he is neither a Louisiana resident nor a voter and has never held elective office), 30 senators and 59 House members voted in favor of this bill built on nothing more than a whimsical scheme concocted by a governor with presidential aspirations that are, if possible, even more elusive now.

The House and Senate votes on the SAVE bill are presented here, not so much as a means by which readers may keep tabs on their legislators (though that is certainly a consideration) but to keep watch on a vindictive Bobby Jindal who has shown a propensity over his first seven legislative sessions to veto Capital Outlay projects for legislators who dare show a streak of independence by defying Jindal on any matter, no matter have trivial. SENATE VOTE ON SB 93  HOUSE VOTE ON SB 93

And because the make-believe increase in tuition is a fee increase, and not a tax, a simple 53 majority House vote was necessary for passage instead of the two-thirds vote.

But wait! The SAVE bill passage was deemed necessary before Jindal would sign off on the $750 million in tax increases passed to try and patch the $1.6 billion revenue shortfall. So, if it was part and parcel to the entire budget bill, why would it not require the two-thirds vote?

Well, because Kleckley says so, that’s why. And Kleckley takes his marching orders directly from Jindal who takes his directly from Norquist. So the bottom line is the Speaker of the House chose to split hairs in deeming that a tuition increase, even a fake one, was not a tax just as that $50 increase in vehicle registration is not a tax, but a fee.

Boy! You gotta hand it to Kleckley and Jindal and Norquist and Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego. When it comes to making up rules on the fly, there’s no one better.

Unless it’s Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels Timmy Teepell the guy who said, or who at least must believe “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” When it comes to pure chutzpah, Teepell and the rest of Team Jindal have it. Some have it, some done; they’re full of it.

We at LouisianaVoice somehow got onto the mailing list of Friends of Bobby Jindal which apparently has more recently morphed into the Bobby Jindal Exploratory Committee. We’re not exactly sure how we got on that list but we’re surely glad we did. It makes for excellent fantasy reading.

Not only did the Jindal Exploratory Committee send me its email Friday night, but Teepell, to make certain we got it, re-sent it on Sunday.

Of course both cheese emails end with a plea for money. “If you agree, donate $50, $25 or even $10 so I know you stand with me,” Bobby says in his little message. Then he adds a p.s.:

“I will be announcing my plans for 2016 on June 24, less than two weeks away. I hope you’ll stand with me then too. Let me know you’ve got my back by making a special donation of $6.24 today so I know you’ll be with me.” Get it? June 24 announcement, chip in $6.24 for 6-24. Clever!

But that’s not the gist of the email, not by a long shot. Here’s what he said:

“Yesterday (last Thursday) in Louisiana, we came together to pass a balanced budget (did he mention the $400 million in one-time money to meet recurring expenses—again?) that protects higher education and health care. And we did it without a tax increase (bold his).

“When I ran for Governor of Louisiana, I made a promise to the people of this state that I would not raise taxes. I kept my promise (bold his again).

“I’ve taken a lot of heat from politicians and special interests, including some in my own party, for my refusal to raise taxes. To some politicians, principles are meant to be compromised on and promises are meant to be broken. When I said I wouldn’t raise taxes, I meant it (you guess it; bold his again).

“It’s long past time we had leaders in Washington who mean what they say, who don’t compromise their principles when the special interests start calling, and who keep the promises they made to the people who elected them.”

Yep. Tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, and just maybe it’ll stick to something.

But it’s still a lie. The Louisiana Legislature, the same one he was boasting about “coming together,” just passed $750 million in tax increases and if you don’t believe they are tax increases, consult with the business leaders who screamed the loudest that they will pay most of those higher taxes. Not that we have any sympathy for the larger corporations that have been the recipients of billions of dollars in tax breaks during the Jindal Wonder Years; it’s long past time that they pay their fair share and stop putting the burden on the middle class and lower income segments of the population—all in return for economic gains that are questionable at best and practically non-existent at worst.

And you may wish to consult with smokers on that no-tax B.S. Jindal, or his exploratory committee are spouting. They will be paying 50 cents more per pack of smokes as the result of the cigarette tax increase from 36 cents per pack to 86 cents, a tax increase which Jindal insists never happened.

Tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it… “I’m leaving Louisiana in better shape than I found it,” he told the Monroe News-Star recently.

Tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it. LSU’s tuition is “certainly well under $10,000, when you look at fees and housing,” he told MSNBC’s Morning Joe in February. “It’s cheaper than other schools in the south, in the SEC.”

A check with LSU determined that LSU in-state tuition, housing, fees and books runs about $20,564 per year, up from about $5,000 per year when Jindal took office.

Tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it and soon you’re just a lonely boy crying wolf, Chicken Little screaming that the sky is falling. Back in January, it was his claim of the existence of “no-go” zones in Europe, apparently echoing a claim by Fox News that had already been recanted by the network.

“Bobby did what he’s always done,” said Goebbels Teepell in his email blast. “He took a problem that people said was unsolvable, and found a solution.

“Governors don’t have the luxury of just saying no to problems. They have to solve problems, even problems that everyone else says are impossible (why, yes…emphasis his).

As the Governor of Louisiana, Bobby balanced the budget all eight years without raising taxes. In fact, he actually balanced the budget while cutting taxes for Louisiana families and job creators.” (Emphasis Timmy’s)

Tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it…


Read Full Post »

State Treasurer John Kennedy on Tuesday told the House Appropriations Committee that the Division of Administration exerts extortion-like tactics against legislators and takes the approach that it should not be questioned about the manner in which it hands out state contracts and that the legislature should, in effect, keep its nose out of the administration’s business.

Kennedy was testifying on behalf of House Bill 30 by State Rep. Jerome Richard (I-Thibodaux) which provides for reporting, review and approval by the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB) of all contracts for professional, personal and consulting services totaling $40,000 or more per year which are funded exclusively with state general fund (SGF) or the Overcollections Fund. HB 30


Kennedy, in a matter of only a few minutes’ testimony, attacked figures provided by three representatives of the Division of Administration (DOA) who objected to the bill because of what they termed additional delays that would be incurred in contract approval and because of claimed infringement upon the separation of powers between the legislative and administrative branches of government.

Here is the link to the committee hearing. While Kennedy spoke at length on the bill, the gist of his remarks about DOA begin at about one hour and 13 minutes into his testimony. You can move your cursor to that point and pick up his attacks on DOA. http://house.louisiana.gov/H_Video/VideoArchivePlayer.aspx?v=house/2015/may/0526_15_AP

That argument appeared to be a reach at best considering it is the legislature that appropriates funding for the contracts. It also appeared more of a smokescreen for the real objections: DOA’s, and by extension, Bobby Jindal’s wish that the administration be allowed to continue to operate behind closed doors and without any oversight, unanswerable to anyone.

DOA representatives tried to minimize the effect of the bill by downplaying the number and dollar amount of the contracts affected (which raises the obvious question of why the opposition to the bill if its impact would be so minimal). The administration said only 164 contracts totaling some $29 million would be affected by the bill.

Kennedy, however, was quick to jump on those figures. “The numbers the division provided you are inaccurate,” he said flatly. “The Legislative Auditor, who works for you,” he told committee members, “just released a report that says there are 14,000 consulting contracts, plus another 4600 ‘off the books.’

“The fiscal notes of 2014 by the Legislative Fiscal Office—not the Division (DOA)—said the number of contracts approved in 2013 by the Office of Contractual Review was 2,001—not 160—professional, personal and consulting service contracts with a total value of $3.1 billion,” he said. “I don’t know where DOA is getting its numbers.

“To sum up their objections,” he said, “it appears to me that DOA and more to the point, the bureaucracy, is smarter than you and knows how to spend taxpayer dollars better than you. That’s the bottom line. They don’t want you to know. This bill will not be overly burdensome to you. Thirty days before the JLCB hearing, you will get a list of contracts. If there are no questions, they fly through. If there are questions, you can ask.”

Kennedy tossed a grenade at DOA on the issue of separation of powers when he accused the administration of blackmailing legislators who might be reluctant to go along with its programs.

“Let’s talk about how the division’s advice on contracts has worked out,” he said. “The Division advised you to spend all the $800 million in the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly. Now they have zero in that account. In fact, they pushed you to do that. Some of you were told if you didn’t do that, you’d lose your Capital Outlay projects. How’s that for separation of powers? How’d that work out for you?

“My colleagues from Division who just testified against the bill are the same ones who told you to take $400 million out of the (Office of Group Benefits) savings account set aside to pay retirees’ and state employees’ health claims. How’d that work out?”

Kennedy didn’t stop there. He came prepared with an entire laundry list of accusations against the administration.

“My colleagues from Division are the ones who told you, ‘Look, we need to privatize our health care delivery system,’ which I support in concept. They sat at this table and I heard them say we would only have to spend $600 million per year on our public-private partnership and (that it would be) a great deal ‘because right now we’re spending $900 million.’ I thought we’d be saving $300 million a year. Except we’re not spending $600 million; we’re spending $1.3 billion and we don’t have the slightest idea whether it’s (the partnerships) working. How’d that work out for you?

“I sat right here at this table and I heard my friends from Division say we need to do Bayou Health managed care. You now appropriate $2.8 billion a year for four health insurance companies to treat 900,000 of our people—not their people, our people,” he said. “There’s just one problem: when the Legislative Auditor goes to DHH (the Department of Health and Hospitals) to audit it (the program), they tell him no.”

Kennedy said that pursuant to orders from DOA, “the only way they can audit is if they take the numbers given him (Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera) by the insurance companies.

“This is a good bill,” he said. “It’s not my bill. My preference is to tell Division to cut 10 percent on all contracts and if you can’t do it, you will be unemployed. But this bill allows you to see where the taxpayer money is being spent.

“I have more confidence in you than I do in the people who’re doing things right now,” he said.

Kennedy said he was somewhat reluctant to testify about the bill “but I’m not going to let this go—especially the part about separation of powers.

“You want to see a blatant example of separation of powers?” he asked rhetorically, returning to the issue of the administration’s heavy handedness. “How about if I have a bill but you don’t read it. You either vote for it or you lose your Capital Outlay projects. How’s that for separation of powers?”

That evoked memories from November of 2012 when Jindal removed two representatives from their committee assignments one day after they voted against the administration’s proposed contract between the Office of Group Benefits and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana.

“Everything they (legislative committees) do is scripted,” said Rep. Joe Harrison (R-Gray), speaking to LouisianaVoice about his removal from the House Appropriations Committee. “I’ve seen the scripts. They hand out a list of questions we are allowed to ask and they tell us not to deviate from the list and not to ask questions that are not in the best interest of the administration.” http://louisianavoice.com/2012/11/02/notable-quotables-in-their-own-words-142/

Rep. John Schroder (R-Covington) asked Kennedy what his budget was to which Kennedy responded, “Less than last year and less that year than the year before and probably will be even less after this hearing. But you know what? I don’t care.

“There’s nothing you can say to get Division to support this bill,” he said. “They’re just not going to do it.

“You can’t find these contracts with a search party. But if you require them to come before you, you can get a feel for how money is being spent that people work hard for and you can provide a mechanism to shift some of that spending to higher priorities.

“Next year, you will spend $47 million on consulting contracts for coastal restoration. I’m not against coastal restoration; I’m all for it. But these consultants will not plant a blade of swamp grass. Don’t tell me they can’t do the job for 10 percent less. That $47 million is more than the entire state general fund appropriation for LSU-Shreveport, Southern University-Shreveport, McNeese and Nicholls State combined.

“Under the law, agencies are supposed to go before the Civil Service Board and show that the work being contracted cannot be done by state employees but that is perfunctory at best,” Kennedy said.

To the administration’s arguments of delays in contract approvals and infringements on the separation of powers, Rep. Brett Geymann (R-Lake Charles) dug in his heels. “This is not a bad thing,” he insisted. “We’re not going to go through every page of every contract unless someone calls it to our attention. It doesn’t matter if it’s 14,000 or 14 million contracts. The number is immaterial. If there’s an issue with a contract, we need to look at it.”

For once, the administration did not have its way with the legislature. The committee approved the bill unanimously and it will now move to the House floor for debate where Jindal’s forces are certain to lobby hard against its passage.

Should the bill ultimately pass both the House and Senate, Jindal will in all likelihood, veto the measure and at that point, we will learn how strong the legislature’s resolve really is.

But for Kennedy, the line has been drawn in the dust.

Read Full Post »

By MIKE STAGG (Independent filmmaker, citizen activist, political strategist – Special to LouisianaVoice)

For the past seven years, as Louisiana has lurched from one fiscal crisis to another, the State of Louisiana has paid the oil and gas industry $2.4 Billion in severance tax exemptions. Despite that massive transfer of public wealth into private hands, the oil and gas industry used its influence inside the Department of Natural Resources and the Jindal administration, to limit—and for three years shut down—audits that would have revealed whether the industry’s severance taxes and royalty payments to the state were accurate.

These facts have been hiding in plain sight, contained in five performance audits of the Department of Natural Resources and the Louisiana Department of Revenue conducted by the Legislative Auditor since 2010. Two of those audits focused on royalty collections from oil and gas produced on state-owned lands and water bottoms. Another focused on severance tax collections; yet another dealt with mineral leases handled by the State Mineral and Energy board, while the fifth audit examined how the Office of Conservation has handled the orphaned and abandoned well cleanup program.

The cozy relationship between DNR and the oil and gas industry is explicit in the department’s regulation of the industry. That coziness, when extended to state finances, has proven disastrous for the Louisiana treasury and its residents. DNR is responsible for collecting oil and gas royalties, which account for roughly seven percent of state General Fund dollars, or approximately $800 million per year.

For a three-year period, between July 2010 and July 2013, DNR had jurisdiction to determine the accuracy of severance taxes and royalty payments.

And DNR let industry have its way.

Audits on royalty revenue dropped. Audits on severance tax revenue all but stopped, even as the state’s financial condition continued to worsen. In short, when it came to providing rigorous oversight to ensure that the royalty and severance tax payments were accurate, DNR’s Office of Mineral Resources deferred to the oil and gas industry while programs that serve the citizens of Louisiana were cut, primarily in healthcare and higher education, the unprotected portions of the state General Fund.

DNR’s relationship with the oil and gas industry is a blatant example of regulatory capture. Regulatory Capture is a form of political corruption that occurs when an agency, created to act in the public interest, advances instead the special concerns of the industry it is charged to regulate.

Severance taxes are the constitutional expression of our, as Louisiana citizens, shared claim on our state’s vast mineral wealth. Exempting severance taxes negates the public claim on that mineral wealth and undermines our ability to invest in ourselves as a state.

Severance tax exemptions are direct payments from the state to the oil and gas producers after the companies have submitted their exemption certificates. Royalties are the property owners’ share of the proceeds from the sale of oil and gas produced from wells on their land. For purposes of this story, royalties are the state’s share of the revenue from oil and gas produced on state-owned lands and water bottoms after severance taxes have been paid.

Since the mid-1980s, Louisiana Department of Revenue has published an annual report on tax exemptions called “The Tax Exemption Budget.” In that document, the department identifies each tax exemption and quantifies the cost of each exemption to the state.

It makes clear that tax exemptions are in fact a spending of state funds — here’s how the LDR explains it in every report: “Tax exemptions are tax dollars that are not collected and result in a loss of state tax revenues available for appropriation. In this sense, the fiscal effect of tax exemptions is the same as a direct fund expenditure.”

Between 2008 and 2014, according to the Tax Exemption Budget, the State of Louisiana paid oil and gas companies more than $2.4 Billion in severance tax exemptions. Those checks went out at the exact same time that our legislature cut funding for programs like aid to families of children with disabilities, behavioral health programs, home health care, and programs that assisted victims of domestic violence. During that same period, state funding for higher education was also cut by more than $700 million as the tuition and fees paid by those attending technical colleges, community colleges, and state universities were jacked up to cover the difference.

The first performance audit on royalty collections was released in July 2010. Royaltieshttps://app.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/B6B5DE331E9D48818625776E005CFDA5/$FILE/00018070.pdf The Legislative Auditor found that DNR’s Office of Mineral Resources took a lackadaisical approach to verifying the accuracy of royalty payments from the 1,888 active mineral leases on state-owned lands and water bottoms.

The Legislative Auditor noted that severance taxes and royalties are connected, that both are dependent on the amount of oil and gas produced, as well as the price of the resource.

Desk audits compared the volume of oil and gas sold to the volume of oil and gas produced, which ensures that royalty payments are properly calculated. These audits also help ensure that production wells on state lands are submitting properly calculated royalty payments.

The Legislative Auditor found that the Office of Mineral Resources (OMR) had not conducted a single such audit in a decade. Despite the Auditor’s recommendation that it resume these audits, OMR waited another three years before getting around to doing so.

The Legislative Auditor also found that OMR did not compare royalty reports against severance tax reports filed with the state Department of Revenue, nor did it compare royalty reports to production reports submitted elsewhere in DNR.

In its response to the Legislative Auditor’s Royalty performance audit findings, on June 24, 2010, DNR announced that “As part of the Streamlining Commission’s recommendations, OMR will take over LDRs severance tax field audit program and the two audits will be integrated beginning July 1, 2010.”

In September of 2013, the Legislative Auditor released a follow-up performance audit on royalty collections. https://app.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/DB918AD8E33411F286257B490074B82A/$FILE/00031C97.pdf

The auditors were dismayed to find that the revenue produced by OMR’s audits had fallen below the levels reported in 2010.

The Auditor also found that that the State Mineral and Energy Board had waived 45% of the $12.8 million in penalties that were assessed against companies by OMR for late payment of royalties.

Neither the Office of Mineral Resources nor the State Mineral and Energy Board seemed at all concerned about the fiscal impact their indifference to generating revenue had on the programs that Louisiana residents depend on. Their primary concern was with not inconveniencing their friends in the oil and gas industry.

The Legislative Auditor conducted an audit on severance tax collection procedures in the

Louisiana Department of Revenue in 2013 but, because severance tax audit functions had been transferred to the DNR in 2010, auditors had to return to the Office of Mineral Resources close on the heels of the second royalty collections audit. https://app.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/AC044A6D3709B90C86257BE30065348B/$FILE/000351F7.pdf

In this audit, the Legislative Auditor found that oil and gas industry complaints about the LDR’s use of GenTax software (which identified possible nonpayers of severance taxes) led first, to LDR shutting off the software, and second, audit power being transferred to DNR.

The scale of the oil and gas production not audited as a result of that shift was staggering. DNR’s field audits ignored oil and gas production on private lands — which comprises 98.1% of all oil and gas leases in Louisiana — for a three-year period.

Revenue from severance tax audits fell 99.8% from the levels produced by the Department of Revenue once responsibility was transferred to the Office of Mineral Resources. The actual dollar amount fell from $26 Million in 2010 to $40,729 in Fiscal Year 2012.

For the three-year period that DNR’s Office of Mineral Resources had responsibility for severance tax audits, the industry essentially operated under an honor system.

Prior history shows why this was a problem. In the late 1990s, the Mike Foster administration filed lawsuits against more than 20 oil and gas companies claiming they had shortchanged the state by as much as $100 million on severance tax payments. Now, for three years as recurring revenue shortfalls continued, the Office of Mineral Resources ignored that history.

During this time, the Haynesville Trend emerged as the most productive shale gas field in the country.

Even though the severance tax exemption on horizontal drilling meant that the state was denied severance tax revenue for much of that play, companies still managed to game the exemption system at taxpayer expense.

Under the rules for severance tax exemptions, the state pays back the taxes already paid once it receives the exemption certificate from the company — plus “Judicial Interest” which in the period covered by the audit averaged about 4.5%.

That is, the state had to dip into non-exempt severance tax payments in order to cover the interest costs on those certificates that the companies chose to sit on for several months.

The Audit found that over the course of four fiscal years running from 2009 through 2012, the Department of Revenue issued 13,818 severance tax refund checks totaling $360,190,583. An extra $23,859,012 in interest was tacked on to that. https://app.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/CF6244B77E3A958686257C30005E80B1/$FILE/000368DA.pdf

In addition, the Auditor found that the Department of Revenue overpaid severance tax exemption refunds by $12.9 million between July 2010 and May 2012.

The decline in audit revenue, the interest paid to companies on the gaming of the severance tax exemption process, the overpayment of severance tax exemption refunds, the decision by the State Mineral and Energy Board to waive 45% of fines for late payment of royalties combined to benefit the industry at taxpayer expense to the tune of $68 million.

These gifts to the oil and gas industry were made at a time when the industry was already receiving $2.4 Billion in tax exemptions and at a time when every dollar the state did not collect translated into a cut to programs that Louisiana residents depended on.

The Auditor also pointed out that hiring additional auditors within DNR and LDR would produce a great return on the state’s investment. Each auditor costs a department between $50,000 and $60,000 per year, but they bring in an average of $1.3 million per year. LDR said it had requested additional auditors in its budgets but they were never approved by the Jindal administration.

Oil and gas companies control all of the information used in the severance tax and royalty payment process. The industry has used this power to its advantage and to the state’s detriment.

Vigilant auditing can close that information gap.

The Office of Mineral Resources has shown little interest in that kind of work. DNR’s abdication of its oversight role on royalty revenue has had an outsized impact on Louisiana because of the role that revenue plays in state finances. When added to the three-year period when DNR failed to perform severance tax audits, the agency has likely cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars over the past seven years.

That is corruption.

Not all of this went unnoticed. In the 2014 legislative session, Sen. Rick Gallot (D-Ruston) and Rep. Joe Harrison (R-Gray) introduced concurrent resolutions to order LDR, DNR and the Legislative Auditor to agree upon a means to conduct a thorough audit of oil and gas production, severance taxes and royalty payments. Gallot’s resolution passed the Senate by a vote of 35-0. https://app.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/D6A0EBE279B83B9F86257CE700506EAD/$FILE/000010BC.pdf

But by the time the resolution reached the House floor in early June, the oil and gas industry and the Jindal administration recognized the threat the audit posed, so they joined forces to kill it. SCR 142

The resolution had to be killed to keep the secret.

In the midst of a prolonged and deepening fiscal crisis, the Jindal administration and the industry did not want legislators and the public to question whether the severance taxes and royalties paid to the state were accurately calculated.

The Department of Natural Resources betrayed the trust of the people of this state. It failed its fiduciary responsibility twice; first, as collector of royalty payments, and again during the time it served as chief auditor of severance tax collections. It has repeatedly put the needs of the industry above the needs of the people of this state.

For the oil and gas industry, $2.4 Billion in severance tax exemption payments were not enough. Its greed is so great that, in a time of fiscal constraints on state government, it went out of its way to cheat the state out of still more money. It used its power and influence in the Department of Natural Resources and its ties to the Jindal administration to do so.

By these acts, the oil and gas industry has shown itself to be unworthy of the trust we have placed in it.

For Looting Louisiana in our time of fiscal need, the oil and gas industry must be stripped of its severance tax exemptions. Under the Louisiana Constitution, we are entitled to the full benefits of this state’s mineral wealth.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,978 other followers