Tax amnesty money usually laundered by lawmakers

Coastal restoration fund is a popular filtering target

Special to the Herald-Guide
December 13, 2013 at 9:35 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

By John Maginnis and Jeremy Alford
Sources in the Legislature and the Department of Revenue tell LaPolitics.com that this year’s tax amnesty program generated in excess of what was originally budgeted. While the official overage has not yet been announced, that means lawmakers will indeed have some extra cash to spend.

They desperately needed the amnesty program, which allows taxpayers to settle back taxes with reduced penalties and interest, to bring in at least $200 million this year. The sum is required to cover a gap in the Department of Health and Hospital’s Medicaid program and to draw down $340 million from the federal government in matching funds.

There are restrictions, however, in state and constitutional law that stipulate how any additional dollars over that threshold can be spent. Regardless, lawmakers will more than likely use some clever accounting to get around those prohibitions to funnel all of the money into the state budget, if past actions are any indication.

But before that can happen, the Revenue Estimating Conference—a panel charged with identifying how much money the state has coming in—will need to determine whether the extra amnesty money is recurring or non-recurring. The latter category, known as one-time money, includes restrictions on where it can be placed:•25 percent must go into the Rainy Day Fund savings account•5 percent must be used to pay down unfunded accrued liability, or retirement debt•70 percent can be spent on either of the priorities above, in addition to coastal restoration, debt defeasance, higher education deferred maintenance projects and highway constructionThere’s more flexibility, however, for the recurring portion of the excess, and House Ways and Means Chairman Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, is already urging his colleagues to approach with caution.

“For the dollars recognized as recurring, this amount can be spent in our operating budget,” Robideaux wrote in a letter to lawmakers last week. “We may want to set these funds aside until the budget situation becomes more clear.”As for how much of the current haul will be recognized as one-time, or non-recurring, the last tax amnesty program held in 2010 offers some guidance. It had an overage of $482 million, of which $242 million was identified as non-recurring.

While that money was not legally permitted to be placed directly into the operating budget, lawmakers still found a way. They put the entire sum in the Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund, as allowed by the constitution, then moved it into the Overcollections Fund, as permitted by statute. From there, lawmakers put all of the money in DHH’s budget.The other $240 million from 2010 was identified as recurring and spent as follows:•$76 million went to the Department of Revenue to cover costs related to the amnesty program•$75 million went into the Rainy Day Fund, although it was subsequently swept out and appropriated to the Board of Regents•$90 million was deposited into the Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund, although that was yanked out as well after the fact and appropriated to DHH

“The bottom line is that all of the $482 million in 2010 amnesty proceeds eventually ended up in the operating budget,” writes Robideaux.Cassidy endorsed by potential rival’s senatorThe latest elected official to endorse the U.S. Senate campaign of Congressman Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, is state Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville.

Donahue, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said Cassidy would be a “champion for change on Capitol Hill.” He also played up the congressman’s M.D., saying, “Dr. Cassidy can help replace Obamacare with sustainable programs that protect the patient and the taxpayer.”

It’s an interesting endorsement to roll out roughly a year before the election. It’s even more interesting that Donahue is the senator of state Rep. Paul Hollis, R-Covington, who has expressed interest in running against U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.

For Cassidy’s boosters, though, Hollis may as well be challenging the congressman. Many in the GOP want a clear field to take on the incumbent.

To be certain, if Hollis does run, he won’t be getting a nod from the state senator who represents his backyard. “Paul is a good man,” said Donahue. “But he never talked to me about being interested in the race.”

As for the timeline for the endorsement being announced, Donahue said it’s nothing new.

“I’ve been in Cassidy’s boat a long time,” he said.

Richmond Gaining Policy Niche on Travel Security As the top-ranking Democrat on the subcommittee on transportation security, New Orleans Congressman Cedric Richmond could become an influential voice in the coming debate over airport security.

He has described a new report on the Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques program, or SPOT, as a “serious indictment.” The Government Accountability Office has recommended that Congress stop funding the program.

So far Richmond’s policy cache has been defined by flood- and hurricane-related issues, which is understandable. Some of these efforts have had a bipartisan flare as well, with Richmond partnering with Congressman Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson. They team up quite a bit, which may be more about their neighboring districts. But they do seem to work well together.  

They Said ItThe following quotes were excerpted from last month’s issue of Harper’s Magazine, which includes an article tracing the oil and gas industry’s long history as Louisiana’s dominant political power. “I drive a white car and he drives a black car. I wear a white hat and he wears a black hat, I’m a good guy and he’s a bad guy.”-LOGA President Don Briggs on lobbyist Randy Haynie “Conflicts of interest are accepted in Louisiana. If you don’t have your wife on the payroll you’re a fool who missed a good chance.”-Oliver Houck, a professor of environmental law at Tulane




View other articles written Special to the Herald-Guide