A controversy over exactly who has control over the state's unclaimed property dollars has been ongoing for some time now. That is money from old savings accounts, payroll checks, stocks and dividends, insurance proceeds, oil royalty payments and utility deposits.
Governors and legislators have used some of those unclaimed funds for years, but state Treasurer John Schroder said he and his office's attorneys don't believe the law permits those transfers. Schroder has refused for the last two years to release the money.
The state has spent about $25 million to $50 million from the unclaimed property account for years to pay for road construction and other projects.
Jay Dardenne, state commissioner of administration and Gov. John Bel Edwards budget chief, said not everyone is going to claim those funds at the same time. New dollars pour into the unclaimed funds each year to cover payouts even as money comes out, Dardenne said.
Schroder said his officer installed technology upgrades that make it easier to hand out the money to people and he wants to hire more staffers to run the fund.
Dardenne said, "Clearly, he's wanting to fund that with this money that he was not entitled to. The law is clear that all the money has to go into the fund to pay our bonded indebtedness."
Edwards said, "I don't believe the treasurer has the right to not follow through on an appropriation that has been made by the Legislature. But that's something we're going to be talking about and taking a look at."
The Advocate said a decision on whether to file suit would be made after the holidays. Schroder has other plans. He wants to reintroduce legislation that failed last year. It creates a program where unclaimed property would be invested in a fund and the profits could be borrowed by local governments to pay for badly needed infrastructure improvements.
The legislation passed the House 78-17, but died in the Senate Finance Committee. Republicans have stronger control in the new Senate, and Schroder's bill would probably be more successful.
Everyone involved on both sides of this controversy appears to agree the unclaimed money needs to be returned to its rightful owners. The issue is over what to do with that part of the fund that remains unclaimed.
Schroder said he is willing to go to court to protect the money. Edwards said his administration would have more information on that to come.
This issue has dragged on long enough. Take it to court and get a decision.