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Archive for the ‘Auditor’ Category

Iraqi oil scams, critical compliance audits, litigation over the misappropriation of public funds, questionable land deals, botched Wal Mart deal involving Bobby Jindal’s father-in-law.

They’re all just another day at the office for Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser.

When Baton Rouge Advocate reporters Rebekah Allen and Richard Thompson did some good old-fashioned journalistic digging last week to report that hysterical Iraqi oil scam perpetrated by Nungesser and political ally State Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere, it threw LouisianaVoice into a scramble mode. http://theadvocate.com/news/politics/15398751-125/lt-gov-billy-nungesser-gop-chairman-roger-villere-work-to-recruit-unlikely-iraq-to-louisiana-busin

In short order we found that Nungesser and Villere had fallen for a similar con run by the same company (Alexandros, a corporation registered in Delaware), but instead of the State of Louisiana and Nungesser and Villere, the targets were the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands and former Baton Rouge Metro Council member Darrell Glasper. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/04/12/louisiana-has-a-new-clown-prince-but-its-egg-not-a-pie-all-over-lt-gov-nungessers-face-after-succession-of-blunders/

But by the time the light came on in Nungesser’s head, Krusty had already been cued. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SzLHU6S4oic

By then, however, it was too late. He had fired off letters to Secretary of State John Kerry, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Stuart Jones and to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and even issued a press release to (thankfully) only one news outlet, The Washington Post which (again, thankfully) did not run with the story.

Oh, and he also passed himself off as the one man in state government responsible for economic development (quick: someone let Secretary of Economic Development Secretary Donald Pierson know) and he said he was acting on the directive of Gov. John Bel Edwards (he wasn’t).

Sources tell LouisianaVoice that when Edwards heard about the two-man theater of the absurd, he had two state troopers interrupt Nungesser during an address to a group of businessmen and escort him to the governor’s office where he had a little come-to-Jesus meeting with Edwards. We weren’t able to get a confirmation or denial of that story

Nungesser, of course, did the only logical thing: he first blamed his staff, saying the letters should never have reached his desk. He then tried to throw Villere under the bus by saying the state GOP chairman had requested the letters from him. Finally, in an appearance on the Jim Engster radio show, he said the letters were in the middle of a stack of thank-you notes and he didn’t actually read them.

Did he learn his lesson? Apparently not. Even after the Iraqi letter-writing frenzy blew up in his face, he then told another group that Edwards had put him in charge of coastal restoration.

Nice.

Trying to imagine Nungesser sitting at his desk feverishly signing all those thank-you notes, it’s difficult not to visualize Gov. William J. Lepetomane signing a succession of documents handed him by aide Hedley Lamarr in the movie Blazing Saddles. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sm1Jyusyoqk

Back during those heady days as Plaquemines Parish President, Nungesser decided he’d like to bring a brand spanking new Wal Mart to the lot at the corner of LA. 23 and LA. 406 in Belle Chasse.

The only problem was there was a moratorium on big box stores on the books that the parish council had passed and by the time it expired about a year later, the tide of opinion on the council had turned against Nungesser’s proposal.

The land in question was—and is—owned by several former employees of Freeport McMoRan, one of whom is Jatinder (Jay) Jolly.

Jolly is the father of Supriya Jindal, wife of former Gov. Bobby Jindal.

After the deal collapsed, only a small building owned by Freeport McMoRan sat on the property but now it has been torn down and only a concrete slab remains, leading to speculation that the Wal Mart proposal may be resurrected.

A 2010 compliance AUDIT conducted by the Legislative Auditor’s Office while Nungesser still served as parish president is especially telling.

A compliance audit is different from a routine annual audit in that a compliance audit is an audit for compliance of laws, regulations and other guidelines that a governmental entity is required to follow.

In short, the compliance audit found that:

  • The Parish may have violated the parish Charter and a local ordinance by entering into two contracts pertaining to recovery operations.
  • The Parish Administration may have violated the Local Government Budget Act by not including Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grants within the Parish budget.
  • The Parish’s attorney may not be properly approved by the Council as required in the Parish Charter.
  • The Parish President (Nungesser) may have violated the Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics through real estate transactions between his trust and the owners of two Parish vendors.

In that last finding, auditors said in January 2008, the owners of two companies doing business with the parish “were also involved in a private real estate transaction with a trust whose beneficiary is Parish President William Nungesser. These transactions may constitute a violation of the Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics and therefore will be referred to the Board of Ethics for its consideration.”

Since Nungesser was a political ally of Jindal and the Board of Ethics members are appointed by Jindal, nothing came of that referral.

Nungesser, in typical fashion, saw no fault in his actions and fired off a defiant 12-page letter of response to the state auditor in which he painted himself as the savior of a parish devastated by hurricanes and the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. He even managed to tell auditors what their job was in his response, saying they had “no authority” to second-guess his decision as to when a state of emergency was ended.

If he could find no fault, members of the Plaquemines Parish Council certainly could (with the exception of Council Chairman Kirk Lepine.)

On Oct. 15, just nine days before the Oct. 24 primary election last fall, the Plaquemines Parish Government filed suit against Nungesser in 25th Judicial District Court in Plaquemines Parish.

The lawsuit accuses Nungesser of causing “the misappropriation of public property and public services” by having Plaquemines Parish employees perform work on private property.

The suit says he ordered parish employees of the Heavy Equipment Department to transport limestone, sand aggregate and asphalt belonging to the parish to two private roads in the parish and to cut trees and dig out a drainage ditch prior to installing a drain pipe with an 8-by-20-foot culvert and then backfill on private property on LA. 23 in Belle Chasse.

Now Lepine has offered up a motion for the parish to drop the lawsuit.

Perhaps it’s only coincidence that Lepine’s stepdaughter works for Nungesser.

CLOWN IN CHIEF

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The past is prologue

                                    —William Shakespeare (The Tempest)

In 1936, Mississippi Gov. Hugh White successfully pushed through the state legislature his answer to President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal so despised by southern states.

Mississippi could grow and prosper through his landmark “Balance Agriculture with Industry” program, according to Mississippi native Joseph B. Atkins, author of the little-known but important book Covering for the Bosses. The book is an examination of how newspapers in the South refused to give fair coverage to labor unions in their attempt to gain equitable working conditions for workers first in the textile mills and later the automobile industry.

https://books.google.com/books?id=o6AfWT79t2MC&pg=PA237&lpg=PA237&dq=shadows+in+the+sunbelt+1986&source=bl&ots=7Wb_bKCn48&sig=FIjJetyw-Li-lCk0c3zN_muV3MA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjL-Ob4k4_LAhWFPiYKHchPD50Q6AEIUDAJ#v=onepage&q=shadows%20in%20the%20sunbelt%201986&f=false

According to Atkins, White figured he could attract industry to Mississippi through the then-radical concept of offering attractive tax incentives and promises of low wages—and, of course, no unions.

The program, Atkins writes, eventually became a model for the entire South and today, Mississippi, in the latest rankings of the best states for business, can be found sitting firmly in….47th place among the 50 states, ranked ahead of only (in order) Kentucky, Louisiana, and West Virginia. In fact, the South can lay claim to six of the bottom 10 spots in the national rankings. They also include Arkansas (42nd) and Alabama (45th). Tennessee was only slightly better at 38th. Virginia (10th) and North Carolina (15th) were the only southern state in the top 20. http://247wallst.com/special-report/2016/02/17/the-best-and-worst-states-for-business-2/

So what went wrong with White’s grand scheme for Mississippi? Simply put, the same thing that doomed Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee to the bottom one-fourth of the heap. They gave away their tax bases while at the same time condemning their citizens to lives of low wages and poor benefits. And Wal-Mart was first in line to fully exploit the plethora of incentives, be they the 10-year property tax exemptions, Enterprise Zone initiatives or some other inducement.

Wal-Mart, described by Wall Street Journal writer Bob Ortega in his book In Sam We Trust as “an amoral construct with one imperative: the profit motive.”

In October 2005, Atkins writes in Covering for the Bosses, that an internal Wal-Mart memo was leaked which revealed the true, impersonal attitude of the corporate office toward its 1.3 million American workers, 30 percent of whom are part-time workers.

In her memo to Wal-Mart executive vice president M. Susan Chambers complained of the costs of long-term workers. The company, she said, spent 55 percent more on them than on one-year workers even though “there is no difference in (the employee’s) productivity.” She said because Wal-Mart pays an associate “more in salary and benefits as his or her tenure increases, we are pricing that associate out of the labor market, increasing the likelihood that he or she will stay with Wal-Mart….The least health, least productive associates are more satisfied with their benefits than other segments and are interested in longer careers with Wal-Mart,” she said.

In plain language, she was advocating throwing older workers to the curb in favor of newer, lower-salaried workers.

Yet Wal-Mart has shoved its way to the public trough, securing some $100 million in economic development subsidies from the state in 20 cities from Abbeville ($1.67 million) to Vidalia ($1.65 million), from Shreveport ($6.3 million) to New Orleans ($7 million), from Monroe ($3.9 million) to Sulphur ($1.8 million).

Nationally, estimated annual subsidies and tax breaks to Wal-Mart and the Walton family total $7.8 billion per year. This for six Walton heirs whose collective net worth of $148.8 billion is more than 49 million American families combined. http://www.americansfortaxfairness.org/files/Walmart-on-Tax-Day-Americans-for-Tax-Fairness-1.pdf

A congressional report estimated that each Wal-Mart store in America generated an average of $421,000 in Medicaid, SNAP and public housing costs to taxpayers. That’s in addition to the estimated $1 billion taxpayers anted up in local and state government subsidies to have a Wal-Mart in their communities. Wal-Mart workers, who earn less than $10 an hour (about $18,000 per year), are offered a family health care plan with a $1,000 deductible costing $141 per month.

And remember that warm fuzzy “Made in USA” advertising campaign of Wal-Mart in which Wal-Mart in 2013 said it was starting a 10-year plan to increase spending on U.S. made products by $250 billion? Well fuggeboutit. It didn’t happen and last October, the company removed the “Made in the USA” logos from all product listings on its Web site after the Federal Trade Commission caught the company (gasp) lying. http://fortune.com/2015/10/20/walmart-made-in-the-usa/

Instead, much of its merchandise, clothing in particular, comes from third-world sweatshops where workers are paid pennies per hour in wages and children work up to 20 hours per day to make the clothing we purchase from Wal-Mart. https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-sweatshops

And here’s a real eye-opener.

In her book Cheap, author Ellen Ruppel Shell reveals a dirty little secret most consumers are unaware of: name-brand clothing sold at Wal-Mart aren’t quite what consumers think they are. “Discounting dilutes brands, making it less certain that they are a mark of quality,” Shell writes. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/19/books/review/Shapiro-t.html?_r=0

Hundreds of brands “slice and dice their offerings for various markets, selling different products in different types of stores for different prices under the same brand,” she said. “Chains such as Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target and Home Depot have items manufactured ‘to their specifications,’ meaning that the brand name is almost devoid of meaning.”

That means a television with a model number available only at Wal-Mart is not really a Sony or a Samsung, for example, but a Wal-Mart television.

“Brands have become an end in themselves,” she writes. “…It is not the brand alone that entices discount shoppers; it is the high value we link to the brand versus the low price we pay that is so seductive.”

In recent years, Louisiana taxpayers have subsidized the construction of Wal-Mart stores in two affluent suburbs to the tune of a $700,000 tax credit. A tax credit is a dollar for dollar reduction of a tax liability meaning a $1 tax credit reduces one’s taxes by a full dollar. Bear in mind, these subsidies were Enterprise Zone projects. The Enterprise Zone program is designed specifically to lure business and industry into areas of high unemployment in order to help economically depressed areas. Instead, one of these stores were built in St. Tammany, one of the most affluent communities in the state.

Likewise, $330,000 in Enterprise Zone tax credits were awarded in 2013 to Lakeview Regional Medical Center in St. Tammany Parish for an upgrade to its facilities which created a grand total of five new jobs.

As far back as 2012, then-Secretary of the Department of Economic Development Stephen Moret said the Enterprise Zone program no longer fulfilled its purpose. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2012/12/louisiana_economic_development_1.html

A Legislative Auditor’s report agreed, saying that 75 percent of new jobs, 68 percent of new businesses and 60 percent of capital investments were made outside the EZs. http://app1.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/92629A33AAE8C55F862579EB0072ACEB/$FILE/00029DFA.pdf

That’s because unlike other states, Louisiana’s Enterprise Zone program allows the generous five-year tax breaks for retail establishments, businesses whose salaries traditionally are at the low end of the pay scale. Those include, besides Wal-Mart, chain stores like Walgreens and Raising Cane’s chicken outlets.

“Most of the projects are larger companies investing in relative affluent areas in Louisiana today,” Moret said in something of an understatement. He said that fact alone underscored the importance of making changes to the program.

Were changes made? No. In fact, in 2013, the year after his comments, the state awarded EZ tax credits totaling $19.6 million for projects that produced 4,857 new jobs which in turn generated about $10 million in state income taxes, or a net loss of more than $9 million to the state.

Meanwhile, Atkins quotes author Bill Quinn as saying Wal-Mart “has done more to stomp out Middle-class America than all other discount houses put together.”

Yet, the official policy of Louisiana has been to continue to give generous tax breaks to a company that underpays its employees, deceives customers into thinking they are “buying American” when in reality, they are propping up third-world sweatshops whose workers churn out second line brand names under slave-like working conditions.

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No sooner did we call U.S. Sen. David Vitter out for potential improprieties for using his Senate franking privileges to gain an edge over his three opponents in this year’s gubernatorial election than our old friend C.B. Forgotston send us evidence of an even more flagrant misuse of his office for similar reasons.

It’s enough to make you wonder what the hell goes through these politicians’ minds except that we already know: they are so convinced they are above the law that they couldn’t care less what the great unwashed think about their flaunting of the rules.

We’ve previously reported Jindal’s acceptance of tainted campaign contributions from the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (non-profits are prohibited from making campaign contributions), laundered money from a St. Tammany Parish bank board of directors (without the 11 directors’ awareness they were “contributing” $5,000 each to Jindal) and the head of Florida’s largest-ever Ponzi scheme who funneled $30,000 in contributions to Jindal from himself, his wife and his law firm.

Within an hour of posting the story about Vitter’s use of franking privileges to promote his gubernatorial campaign, LouisianaVoice’s email exploded with messages about Jindal’s latest post on the governor’s web page, paid for by Louisiana taxpayer dollars.

The first email was from Forgotston, who has fired off a letter to Inspector General Stephen Street demanding an answer to his inquiry as to the legality of Jindal’s “press release” on Tuesday.

So what, exactly, is all the fuss about?

Quite simply, Jindal used the state computer and web page (and presumably a state employee) to gin out a “press release” personally attacking one of Jindal’s probable opponents for the Republican nomination for president under the headline “Gov. Jindal: Senator Paul unsuited to be Commander-in-Chief.” http://www.gov.louisiana.gov/index.cfm?md=newsroom&tmp=detail&articleID=4965

Paul, a U.S. Senator from Kentucky, is an announced candidate for the Republican nomination. https://randpaul.com/

And what did Paul do or say that prompted Jindal to ignore legal constraints on the use of state web pages? Apparently, Paul said something to the effect that ISIS exists because of the U.S. hawkish foreign policy—a claim, by the way, that we cannot entirely disagree with.

“This is a perfect example of why Senator Paul is unsuited to be Commander-in-Chief,” Jindal whined.

Except he did his whining on a state-funded web page and that immediately invoked the wrath of a number of readers and Forgotston, who once worked as a legal counsel for the legislature, is not the one you want to tick off when it comes to matters concerning the state constitution.

In his email to Street, Forgotston began by describing the Jindal press release as “a violation of Louisiana Constitution, Article XI, 4.”

In case you don’t want to take the time to open the link, it says that while there is no prohibition against the use of public funds to disseminate factual information about a proposition appearing on an election ballot, “no public funds shall be used to urge any elector to vote for or against any candidate or proposition, or be appropriated to a candidate or political organization.”

“It (the press release) clearly urges a vote against U.S. Senator Rand Paul for President of the United States,” he said. “The press release was issued by state employees (the release contained the names of Shannon Bates Dirmann and Shannon, Deputy Communications Director for the Governor’s Office) and has no disclaimer that public funds were not used.

“If this is not a violation of the law, please advise why it isn’t,” Forgotston said. He ended his email by writing, in all caps, “A RESPONSE IS REQUESTED,” which he said “is not directed to any recipients of his email other than the State Inspector General.”

In case any of our readers also would like to submit a similar question to the OIG, here is Street’s email address: stephen.street@la.gov.

Forgotston said he will also share his concerns with Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera.

As Forgotston himself is fond of saying: you can’t make this stuff up.

 

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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

HB 30 FISCAL NOTES

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.” https://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.

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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.

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