You may remember when “privatization” was a buzzword when it came to state government operations. As a legislator, I would often be the first one to argue that government was a bloated organization with out-of-control spending. I knew from my experience as an entrepreneur and business owner that government could operate more efficiently.
I’ve been treasurer for a little over a year and I still believe that government spending is out of control and there are many areas for improvement. But the sad truth is we are not going to fix everything overnight. One only has to look at the constant gridlock in Washington, D.C. to recognize these issues are ingrained in the system. However, with a little creativity and a different perspective, we can make some positive changes in a relatively short timeframe.
I may sound overly confident, but it’s because I’ve seen this firsthand at the Department of Treasury. In our office, we are fostering an atmosphere of innovation and cooperation. When I first started, I told my staff that I didn’t want to hear “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” unless it could be proven that the old way was the best way to do something. If it was, great, but if not, we’d find a way to do it better.
We hold regular education and training sessions and encourage our staff to reach out to other state agencies and the private sector for assistance on various projects that can benefit taxpayers. One example of how we did this was with our Unclaimed Property program.
My office’s Unclaimed Property Director Kathleen Lobell shared an idea with me that several other State Treasury Offices were doing in partnership with their state Revenue Departments. They were finding tremendous success in clearing out unclaimed property backlogs by sharing updated address information for the sole purpose of returning more unclaimed money to citizens.
We reached out to the Louisiana Department of Revenue and worked with them to pass a bill in the Legislature to allow us to try this approach in Louisiana. Now, I know what you are thinking, and yes I did just say two agencies, with different government roles and functions worked together in a true partnership for the benefit of Louisiana taxpayers. There were no turf battles or drama, and no one cared about who would get credit for the project’s success. We worked together every step of the way, and the citizens we serve are better for it.
The preliminary results are in and the numbers are pretty remarkable. This July, the Department of Treasury plans to mail our third batch of checks, bringing the total amount returned to citizens to $20 million. By embracing innovation and cooperation, we’ve increased the number of checks issued over 6 months by 500 percent and increased the amount of funds returned by 83 percent.
Now here’s the best part. While increasing the amount of money returned, we reduced the amount it costs to issue each unclaimed property check from $46.65 to $9.14.
This is just one small example of how we’ve been able to improve state government operations with new ideas and teamwork. Imagine what we could accomplish if we did this across state government. We are working on some other great initiatives in the year ahead and, like any good business, we welcome your suggestions as we are constantly looking for ways to be the best at what we do. After all, as public servants, we answer to one boss – you the taxpayer.