Governments are funded through the money of the people.
This has been true since the establishment of time and the idea of government, frankly, as each institution has found its own way to collect funds for the operation of the machine.
How many old movies were based on the idea of one or more heroes fighting the good fight against an antagonist and his tax collector?
The ruler and tax collector couldn’t be the same, mind you, because that would have been too evil.
Fast forward to today, and taxes have expanded to a variety of options - land, sales, personal income, inventory... just to name a few.
It’s molded into such a form that it’s hard to present an antagonist as a tax collector because there are so many pulling from the pot. Suppose the Sheriff’s office could fit that bill, since property tax checks must be addressed to the Livingston Parish Tax Collector - but that’s just ad volorem taxes, it doesn’t include the others which are recorded through the state or federal government, or the school board.
Tracking all of those heads is difficult, at either a local, state, or federal level, but that’s the exercise Louisiana state government jumps into every year in order to try and estimate the potential revenues collected for that year - the goal being a ‘responsible’ budget.
This year, as you may have read, there is some consternation between the house, administration, and the state treasurer John Schroder.
First, it’s important to understand what unclaimed property is. The definition is any financial debt, owed to a citizen, remitted to the state for distribution when, and if, the citizen comes to claim it.
The treasurer keeps a list of peopled owed on the department’s website.
These can be anything from an inheritence that never found its way to the heir; repayment of a debt that never reached a payee; perhaps even financial portions of a savings account that went defunct after a death or move.
These monies are given to the state to get them off the books for local businesses, and it is the state’s charge to hold these funds until they are claimed.
Now Gov. John Bel Edwards and his Commissioner of Administration want to use a portion of those funds - cases which appear ‘dead’ and will remain unclaimed - as part of next year’s budget.
Schroder told the administration to sue him, which Bel Edwards and Jay Dardenne are considering. During the Revenue Estimating Conference, which is chaired by Dardenne, the chairs of the house and senate, as well as an academic economist, both the house and senate chairs expressed a distaste for using those funds just in case there’s a run on the unclaimed property ledger.
Dardenne said that the state has always paid their unclaimed property debts, so there would never be a problem.
However, many people consider taxes to be unconstitutional. Whether you hit that rather extreme frame of mind or not, is your decision, but the fact remains that now the administration wants to use the unclaimed property pot as a revenue source - much like an extra tax.
And that shouldn’t fly.
Yes, there’s an element of Republican versus Democrat politics baked into this disagreement, and that sort of fight has it’s time and place.
But, in the end, that unclaimed property money was remitted to the state to be kept safe and distributed to citizens who request it. Whether there hasn’t been a run on the coffers is irrelevant - that money doesn’t belong the state, and it never has.
It shouldn’t be available to spend and, even if it has been spent in the past, the best time to make a change is right now.
So make sure your legislators know that money from unclaimed property shouldn’t be spent - because it’s not the state’s money, it’s your money.
In the mean time, check out the Louisiana Treasurer’s website and hit the unclaimed property section. See if your name is on it - maybe it’s a family member, a neighbor, even a co-worker.
Send them the link and have them contact the treasurer’s office. Why? Because, again, it’s their money, they should have it.
It’s remitted to the state for safe-keeping and recording, not to be spent as another tax. Let’s push to live within our means.
J. McHugh David Jr. is publisher and editor of the News.