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Archive for the ‘Revenue’ Category

By James D. Kirylo

Guest Columnist

Governor Jindal recently appeared on Meet the Press. The host Chuck Todd peppered the Governor with a variety of questions, asking why he didn’t expand Medicaid, being that it would be helpful for the 200,000 uninsured people in the state (although the number is likely more toward the 750,000 range).

Todd also reminded the Governor how Louisiana nearly has a billion dollar hole in our budget; how at every midyear review, our deficit has grown; how the big tax cut at the beginning of the governor’s term has not been followed by revenue; and that a majority in Louisiana disapprove of his job as governor.

Governor Jindal predictably deflected much of what Todd said, and stated at the onset that he doesn’t care about the poll numbers and never has. He also proudly mentioned that he’s cut our state budget 26 percent, cut the number of state employees 34 percent, and declared how not spending on Medicaid is another dollar we don’t have to borrow from China, and that we shouldn’t waste those federal tax dollars.

Furthermore, the Governor asserted how we’ve actually improved healthcare access and outcomes here in our state.  Citing an example—how it used to take ten days to get a prescription filled—now one can get it done in ten minutes. Finally, the Governor also touted his so-called school choice program, and concluded that he has balanced the budget every single year without running deficits, and without raising taxes.

As I watched Meet the Press, listening to the least transparent governor in the nation, I was amazed, though not surprised, by what the Governor did not mention, some of which I will, therefore, do here. First, when the Governor says he does not care that the majority of Louisianans disapprove of his job as governor, it obviously means he doesn’t care what I think, what state workers think, and what the hundreds and thousands of us who have been greatly harmed by his policies think. It is obvious there is only one person the Governor cares about.

Of course, he didn’t mention that when he talks about how he has sliced and diced the state budget, it has resulted in the near decimation of higher education. Indeed, universities have been cut 80% in the last several years, tuition has exponentially risen, and the LA Grad Act is simply a devious scheme that fosters a system that unduly taxes students in order to fund higher education. In a poor state like ours, this is simply a formula that further widens the opportunity gap, and further widens the gap between the proverbial “haves” and “have-nots.”

He also didn’t mention that numerous underpaid university people have endured near poverty wages, have endured furloughs, have had no cost of living allowances now inching toward the ten year mark, that numerous individuals can’t afford health care, that top flight faculty have left the state, that public school teachers have been blamed for everything that ails our state, that Louisiana has the nation’s fourth highest high school dropout rate, that our high school graduation rate ranks 45th in the nation, that we have one of the highest childhood poverty rates in the country, and that we have the highest incarceration rate in the country, if not the world.

Of course, he didn’t mention that Louisiana ranks 50th among the states in overall health, and that we lead the nation in the highest infant mortality rate, the highest diabetes-related death rate, and the highest rate of death from breast cancer, and third-highest rate of cancer deaths overall.

And of course, he wouldn’t mention that according to a Washington Post report a short while back, the state of Louisiana is expecting a $1.2 billion budget shortfall next year, which has now risen to 1.4 billion. And this is despite the Jindal administration hiring a New York-based consulting firm for $7.3 million to find ways to generate and save revenue. Finally, he didn’t mention what can be characterized as the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) scandal, where many are asking about the half of the $500 million dollars that was in the OGB reserve fund, but is now gone.

It should be no surprise critics are calling Jindal’s handling of the budget his blind-spot. But that is not his only blind spot. The other one is that he is blind to the fact that he has hurt the lives of so many hard-working Louisianans.  And the irony of ironies when the Governor concluded his visit with Meet the Press, he stated that the American Dream was in jeopardy and that should he run for president, he would focus on restoring that dream.

It was then I turned off my television set, had to shake my head, and grabbed my dictionary to double-check the definition of delusional.

James D. Kirylo is an education professor, a former state teacher of the year, and his most recent book is titled A Critical Pedagogy of Resistance.  He can be reached at jkirylo@yahoo.com

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What will Gov. Bobby Jindal say when he appears on Meet the Press Sunday?

Of course we know he will attack President Obama and the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare while ignoring the fact that his decision not to expand Medicaid may end up costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s a given.

At the same time he is criticizing Obama for not being more proactive on the Ebola crisis, he will fail to mention his rejection of the Medicaid expansion has been at the expense of health coverage for a couple hundred thousand low-income Louisianans.

He will condemn the president for his lax immigration policy while turning a blind eye to the indisputable fact that Latin Americans who do enter this country generally take low-paying jobs no one else wants. He won’t mention companies like IBM, Dell, ACS, and Pfizer, to name but a few, that have taken advantage of an obscure work visa (the H-1B program) to lay off more than 250,000 Americans from high-tech IT jobs. These companies lay Americans off in favor of importing hundreds of thousands of Indians who work for far less, thus saving these companies billions of dollars.

He will no doubt boast of his accomplishments as governor—claims that simply will not stand up under close examination—apparently pulled off by remote control. This is especially the case during his second term when his title would more accurately be governor in absentia. He has spent an inordinate amount of time traveling outside the state in an attempt to build support for a anemic campaign for the GOP presidential nomination that, despite his near-desperate efforts, is gaining no traction.

He could lambast the Common Core curriculum, once again ignoring that fact that he was in favor of Common Core before he was against it.

There are so many other things he could discuss but probably won’t.

He won’t mention, for instance, his abysmal record in the state’s courtrooms. One of these was his miserably failed effort to jerk retirement benefits from under the feet of active state employees, some of whom would have seen their retirement income plummet to as little as $6,000 a year—with no social security—had he been successful.

He will attempt once again to convince the nation—those of us in Louisiana know better, of course—that he has balanced the state budget while cutting taxes and reducing the number of state employees.

Yes, he has reduced the number of state employees, but at what cost? The Office of Group Benefits (OGB) is a shell of the once smooth-running state office that handled the medical claims of some 230,000 state employees, retirees and dependents. Not that that matters to Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols who, we are told, is a member of the LSU health plan and thus unaffected by the changes.

And of course Jindal, through his smoke and mirrors game of premium reductions, has managed to siphon off more than half of OGB’s $500 million reserve fund. He also recently attempted to slash benefits and pile unaffordable co-pay and deductible increases onto the backs of state employees and retirees. In short, his grand scheme to privatize OGB has proven nothing less than an unmitigated disaster of politically humiliating (to him) proportions. His firing of respected CEO Tommy Teague and the mess that has ensued stand as a monument to unparalleled mismanagement and political meddling.

And his budget balancing has produced unprecedented cuts to higher education. Colleges and universities in Louisiana have seen their appropriations gouged by nearly 70 percent during Jindal’s almost seven sorry years in office. God help us if he should somehow be placed in the position of inflicting such carnage on the nation as he has on Louisiana.

And what of that claim of balancing the budget, anyway?

Let’s review.

We will take figures provided to us by State Treasurer John Kennedy that reflect the general fund balances as of Oct. 31. And while we are quick to acknowledge the fact that the numbers will certainly improve next spring when revenues start picking up from state income tax and corporate tax collections, a comparison of the last five Octobers is both startling and sobering.

As of Oct. 31 of this year, the general fund balance reflected a deficit of $924.6 million. That’s just $75.4 million shy of $1 billion—and OGB alone is losing $16 million each month.

And yes, the numbers will improve next spring but let’s look back just one year. As of Oct. 31, 2013, the balance reflected a deficit of $656.7 million. That’s nearly $268 million less in negative spending than for this year.

Still not convinced? Well, for Oct. 31, 2012, the deficit was $476.6 million, about $448 million less than for the same month in 2014.

And while it was slightly higher at $565.2 million on Oct. 31, 2011, the number for 2010 was only $181.5 million—almost three-quarters of a billion dollars billion better than this year.

In five short years, the October deficit for the state general fund balance has increased fivefold.

The historically high negative balance, which arrives just a few months into each new fiscal year (which begins on July 1), “is forcing fund borrowing to sustain cash flow,” Kennedy says. “It darkly foreshadows the challenge ahead for lawmakers and the governor in the 2015 regular session. A budget shortfall of at least $1.2 billion is expected, but it’s clearly a figure that could move. It also increases the likelihood of midyear budget cuts in the minds of some.” (The administration finally admitted this even as this post was being written on Friday. Spending for the next seven months will have to be slashed by at least $171 million because of lower than anticipated revenues.) http://theadvocate.com/news/10833948-123/state-needs-mid-year-budget-correction

And here is the rub that has Kennedy and Nichols crossing swords: Kennedy says to some lawmakers, “the negative balance is at a critical high because the state started the fiscal year with a deficit cash balance of $141 million and because expenses actually are greater than revenues,” Kennedy said.

Nichols, however, vehemently disagrees, claiming instead that the administration stumbled upon some $320 million in extra cash from prior years lying around in agencies scattered across the state which she claims gives the state an actual surplus of nearly $179 million.

The problem she has, however, is that no one believes her—including two former commissioners of administration interviewed by LouisianaVoice, both of whom say it’s just not feasible that that much money could have been just lying around all these years without anyone’s knowing of its existence.

Nichols, of course, has to maintain a brave face in order that her boss can save face.

You see, as Bob Mann points out in his latest posting on his blog Something Like the Truth, Jindal “must never have raised a tax” and “must never have presided over an unbalanced state budget” if he wishes to cling to any fading hopes of the GOP presidential nomination.

“All your advantages—your personality, your policy credentials, the importance of your state in Electoral College politics—won’t help you much if you don’t meet these basic qualifications,” Mann said. http://bobmannblog.com/

“Jindal knows Republican audiences in Iowa and elsewhere will pay him little mind if they learn about his fiscal recklessness,” he said. “So, he and Nichols tried to cover their tracks, including dishonestly blaming their budget deficit on state Treasurer John Kennedy.”

Jindal, of course, won’t address any of these issues. But were he of a mind to do so, he could even discuss on his Meet the Press appearance how he tried to frame Murphy Painter, former director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control after Painter refused to knuckle under to demands that he look the other way on behalf of New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson over Budweiser’s application for an alcohol permit at Champion’s Square. He could tell how that effort backfired and the state was forced to pay Painter’s legal bills of some $300,000. But he probably won’t

He could discuss how he attempted unsuccessfully to circumvent state law and obtain a hefty $55,000 per year increase in pension benefits for his state police commander. But most likely, he won’t.

And he could disclose how much it has cost Louisiana taxpayers in terms of payroll, meals and lodging for state police security as he jets around the country in pursuit of his presidential aspirations. But don’t expect him to.

Yes, Jindal could discuss these and other matters during Sunday’s program, but he won’t.

The simple fact is, by virtue of his bottom-feeding position as the anchor in the GOP nominee sweepstakes, he just can’t afford to.

And saddest of all, no one on the program’s panel is likely to inquire about these issues.

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Our October fund raiser enters its final five days and we still need assistance to help us offset the cost of pursuing legal action against an administration that prefers to conduct its business behind closed doors and out of sight of the people to whom they are supposed to answer.

We also are launching an ambitious project that will involve considerable time and expense. If Gov. Bobby Jindal does seek higher office as it becomes more and more apparent that he will, the people of America need to know the real story of what he has done to our state and its people. Voters in the other 49 states need to know not Jindal’s version of his accomplishments as governor, but the truth about:

  • What has occurred with CNSI and Bruce Greenstein;
  • How Jindal squandered the Office of Group Benefits $500 million reserve fund;
  • The lies the administration told us two years ago about how state employee benefits would not be affected by privatization;
  • The lies about how Buck Consultants advised the administration to cut health care premiums when the company’s July report said just the opposite;
  • How Jindal attempted unsuccessfully to gut state employee retirement benefits;
  • How Jindal attempted to sneak a significant retirement benefit into law for the Superintendent of State Police;
  • How Jindal appointees throughout state government have abused the power entrusted to them;
  • How Jindal has attempted a giveaway plan for state hospitals that has yet to be approved by the federal Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS);
  • How regulations have been skirted so that Jindal could reward supporters with favorable purchases and contracts;
  • How Jindal fired employees and demoted legislators for the simple transgression of disagreeing with him;
  • How Jindal has refused Medicaid expansion that has cost hundreds of thousands of Louisiana’s poor the opportunity to obtain medical care;
  • How Jindal has gutted appropriations to higher education in Louisiana, forcing tuition increases detrimental to students;
  • How Jindal has attempted to systematically destroy public education in Louisiana;
  • How Jindal has refused federal grants that could have gone far in developing internet services for rural areas and high speed rail service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans;
  • How Jindal has rewarded major contributors with appointments to key boards and commissions;
  • How Jindal attempted to use the court system to persecute an agency head who refused to knuckle under to illegal demands from the governor’s office;
  • How Jindal has manipulated the state budget each year he has been in office in a desperate effort to smooth over deficit after deficit;
  • And most of all, how Jindal literally abandoned the state while still governor so that he could pursue his quixotic dream of becoming president.

To this end, LouisianaVoice Editor Tom Aswell will be spending the next several months researching and writing a book chronicling the Jindal administration. Should Jindal become a presidential contender or even if he is selected as another candidate’s vice presidential running mate, such a book could have a national impact and even affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

This project is going to take time and involve considerable expense as we compile our research and prepare the book for publication in time for the 2016 election.

To accomplish this, we need your help.

If you are not seeing the “Donate” button, it may be because you are receiving our posts via email subscription. To contribute by credit card, please click on this link to go to our actual web page and look for the yellow Donate button: http://louisianavoice.com/

If you prefer not to conduct an internet transaction, you may mail a check to:

Capital News Service/LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727-0922

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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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