Louisiana auditor identifies millions in misused or missing money

Louisiana auditor identifies millions in misused or missing money

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A report for the Louisiana Legislative Auditor reveals hundreds of millions of dollars in misappropriated, missing or misused funds.

The annual report summarizing work done by the auditor's office arrived on the desks of state leaders just as they are in the process of dealing with massive budget shortfalls. The budget hole for the current fiscal year totals more than $900 million, while the shortfall for the 2016-2017 fiscal year is $2 billion.

"Those are dollars that could have been used for something else, and they're being paid for the wrong purposes," said Daryl Purpera, the state's legislative auditor. "If we could make improvements, we could save millions of dollars, no doubt."

In some cases, the auditor has been sounding the alarm for years. That includes a state program giving Medicaid recipients rides to the doctors. For eight years, the auditor's office has said that some recipients would not actually get medical treatment the day of the ride.

"The kind of indicates that the transportation didn't take place in the first place or that this program is being abused and that was to the tune of about $1.6 million dollars," Purpera said.

Other costly problems are the result of poor handling of enrollment lists.

"We paid out over a million dollars in Medicaid benefits to incarcerated individuals," Purpera said. "These are individuals who are in prison, they don't qualify for Medicaid benefits."

He said another problem is a program that suspended a severance tax on horizontal drilling for oil and gas. The program was first put in place in 1994 and was designed to incentivize horizontal drilling.

Over the course of a five-year period, the report indicates that the tax suspension cost the state more than $1.1 billion. In 2015, the legislature did pass a bill that would gradually phase out the suspension providing the prices of oil and gas meet certain thresholds. However, Purpera said the budgetary damage was already done.

"Most other states did have this type of exemption for severance taxes, but most other states have done away with the exemption or reduced it severely from what we're doing here in Louisiana," he said.

Purpera said it is ultimately up to the administration to better manage taxpayer money. Over the past few years, Purpera said the Jindal administration did not act sufficiently in response to audit reports. In some cases the same problems were seen year after year.

"My hope is certainly that we'll do a better job in the future, and this new administration, under the leadership of Mr. Dardenne, will pay closer attention to these audit findings than the last administration did," he said.

A spokesman for the Edwards administration said it is currently in the process of "extensively reviewing" the audit.

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