For nearly 20 years, residents of Livingston, East Baton Rouge and Ascension parishes have been paying a millage to help build the Comite River Diversion Canal.
Their sacrifice has yet to produce a canal even though we know the project will save homes, businesses and lives.
Twenty years is a long time to wait for a 12-mile canal to be built.
To put that into perspective, it only took 10 years for the Panama Canal to be built, and it’s 48 miles long.
The Panama Canal is an artificial waterway between two oceans. It’s a monumental engineering feat of the early 1900s, and still it only took a decade to build it.
The Comite River Diversion Canal is a much simpler project.
It will prevent the Comite River from overflowing when it swells by sending the excess into the Mississippi River. It’s about as complicated as a drainage ditch, and still we can’t get it built.
Residents are fed up with the slow pace of the Comite River Diversion Canal project, and I can’t blame them.
They’ve sacrificed their hard-earned dollars, and they deserve flood protection. Fortunately, I have a solution.
What’s stalled the Comite River Diversion Canal is a lack of adequate funding.
We can generate substantial funding for the project without asking taxpayers for an additional cent.
We have an Unclaimed Property program in Louisiana.
It’s housed at the Louisiana Department of Treasury, and it holds onto everything from old bank accounts to stocks that have become separated from their owners.
Basically, if a business can’t find you, it sends your money to the state.
Right now, the state is holding onto $750 million in old bank accounts, utility deposits and tax refunds.
In addition to that $750 million in cash, there’s also $175 million in stocks, exchange-traded funds and mutual funds.
Unclaimed Property doesn’t just sit in a safe at the State Capitol. The state uses it for cash flow every day of the week.
Occasionally, the state leverages it for infrastructure projects, such as Interstate 49.
Because there’s so much Unclaimed Property (and so much that will never be claimed), the state can do this without turning anyone away empty-handed when they show up to collect their money.
My suggestion is that the state strongly consider selling those stocks and other noncash assets.
We’re in a bull market right now. There’s been a little recent correction, and no one knows where the market will go from here.
What we do know is that bull market is nine years old, and it won’t go up forever. Now may be the time to turn those noncash assets into cash.
Now you may have heard criticism that I’m trying to spend Louisianians’ Unclaimed Property.
I’m not. Anyone who makes that claim doesn’t know how the Unclaimed Property program works.
Your Unclaimed Property will be there for you to claim whether we do this or whether we don’t do this.
All I’m suggesting is that we wipe the dust off stock certificates and other noncash assets that are sitting in a state government office, cash them and leverage that cash to finally finish the Comite River Diversion Canal.
It’s time to put some shovels in the ground. If we can build the Panama Canal in 10 years, surely we can build the Comite River Diversion Canal in less than 30 years.
U.S. Sen. John Kennedy