Saturday, April 20, 2024

Fleming: Treasury – Louisiana’s biggest bank

by BIZ Magazine

By John Fleming, MD | Louisiana State Treasurer

           BATON ROUGE — It was an honor to be sworn in as Louisiana’s Treasurer by our new Speaker of the House, Congressman Mike Johnson. Mike is very special to me. Not only are we close friends, but he succeeded me as Congressman from the 4th District eight years ago. Together, we have had the privilege of representing the great people of Northwest and Central Louisiana and parts of Acadiana in our nation’s Capitol for the past 16 years.

      I want to thank you for choosing me as your state Treasurer! It is a wonderful opportunity and a tremendous responsibility.

Many people probably think the Treasurer’s job is mainly ceremonial and that he simply affixes his signature to checks and other documents. The truth is, there is much more to it than that.

Complying with State Law 

      The Treasurer’s signature is indeed attached to almost every check issued by the State of Louisiana, and more than $60 billion in checks are written by the Treasurer every year. That’s $60 billion with a B!

      More importantly, the Treasurer is responsible for making sure that those state funds are spent in accordance with the Louisiana Constitution and statutory law. On some days, the Treasurer writes more than $400 million in checks! All expenditures have to be authorized by appropriation bills passed by the Louisiana Legislature.

      The Treasurer also collects $60 billion in revenue each year. In fact, every day at the close of business, the bank account of every state agency is zeroed out and the funds are transferred at that moment to the state’s General Fund maintained by the Treasurer.

      Technically speaking, the state Treasury is not a bank, but if it were, it would be by far the largest bank in Louisiana.

Staff Doing Good Job

      Since being elected your Treasurer in November, I have been preparing to make the transition. I want to thank Treasurer John Schroder and the staff at the Department of Treasury for the good job they have done and for their cooperation and help during this period.

      As a young doctor just out of medical school, I learned the importance of surrounding myself with a strong team of professionals. The good news is, we have a strong team of professionals in place in the Treasurer’s office.

      We have inherited an agency with a history of success and without major scandals. I do not plan major upheavals in the department but rather to find ways to build on that history of success.

      In Louisiana, we have had conservative Republican Treasurers for the past 20 years (John Kennedy and John Schroder) and, even before that, our Treasurers made many important improvements to the office. Two of our last three United States senators from Louisiana were state Treasurer before their election to the Senate — John Kennedy and Mary Landrieu.

           Many of the current staff were hired by John Kennedy, and I am very impressed with a program begun under Mary Landrieu, which is called Bank-at-School. Under this program, community banks in our state have established branches in many schools. This allows students to open a bank account and learn the value of savings and handling money carefully.

Reaching Young People

      Bank-at-School, which is strongly supported by the Louisiana Bankers Association, fits well with a bill passed by the legislature last year requiring that every student in Louisiana public schools pass a one-year course on Financial Literacy in order to quality for TOPS. The new course starts this fall.

      I am excited that the Treasury will be involved in developing this course. Hats off to Rep. Nicky Muscarello, the members of the Louisiana Legislature, and Gov. Edwards for approving this important legislation. Also to State Education Supt. Cade Brumley and his staff for their work on this course.

Investing the People’s Money

      Another very important duty of the state Treasurer is investing nearly $16 billion in state funds. The Investments Division of the Treasury is a fascinating place where decisions are made almost every day that affect the financial health of our state.

      How those funds are invested is controlled by state law, but the Treasurer sometimes has the discretion to make policy decisions regarding these investments. In recent years, the legislature and the Treasurer have divested funds that discriminate against Israel or penalize gun manufacturers or dealers.

      We intend to look more closely at such issues as well such as how more of our investment dollars can be moved to community banks serving Louisiana citizens and businesses.

State Bond Commission

      The Treasurer serves as chairman of the State Bond Commission. In this way, he plays a very significant role in the approval or disapproval of the issuance of debt by the state, state agencies, local governments, and even some private entities. Local tax elections also have to get approval of the bond commission. The staff of the commission works within the Treasurer’s office.

      State law requires the Treasurer to serve on 30 different boards and commissions. Besides the bond commission, the Treasurer serves as president of the Louisiana Asset Management Pool, or LAMP, and as a member of important boards such as the Interim Emergency Board, the State Employees Retirement System, the Teachers Retirement System, and many others.

Unclaimed Property

      Without question, the most popular function of the Treasurer’s office and the one that gets the most public attention is the  Unclaimed Property Division, which helps Louisiana citizens and businesses claim property which they have lost track of, such as old bank accounts, forgotten deposits, and tax refunds. So far, Louisiana’s Treasurers and the hard-working staff at Unclaimed Property have helped get more than $700 million into the hands of the rightful owners.

      Over the next four years, we will work to find ways to provide all of these services to the people of the state even more efficiently.

Cutting Waste, Fraud

      We also want to be a force for finding ways to save taxpayer dollars and eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse from state government.

      It is exciting to be part of a new team of statewide elected officials in Louisiana. We plan to work closely with Gov. Jeff Landry and all of our statewide officials and the legislature to provide excellent service to the people of our state.

Stay in Touch with Us

      Please follow us on Facebook at Louisiana State Treasurer and subscribe to our new YouTube channel, Dr. John Fleming, Louisiana State Treasurer. If you have ideas or suggestions for the Department of Treasury, please email me at [email protected].

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