State’s Debt Collection Criticized
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — At the state Department of Environmental Quality, a $9,754 bill owed by Christus Health in Shreveport for X-ray equipment registration is more than 200 days past due.
Northwestern State University in Natchitoches is trying to collect more than $2 million from students who missed tuition installment payments, lost library books or haven't paid parking fines.
The Advocate reports (http://bit.ly/Ny5w82) that, all totaled, money due to state government added up to more than $1.5 billion on March 31, the most recent date for which figures from the Division of Administration are available.
State Rep. Chris Broadwater, a Hammond Republican, says the state must improve its methods for collecting debts.
Broadwater successfully sponsored legislation this year to establish a pilot program to sell, securitize or auction portions of the state's long-term delinquent accounts.
His idea is to allow a bank, collection agency or private citizen to assume the risk of collecting the money in exchange for paying the state a percentage of what is owed.
"I don't necessarily know the reason it's not being paid back," Broadwater said. "I can certainly guess. Maybe in some cases, it's agencies just not being attentive to the money they're owed."
The debts owed range from huge amounts to small sums.
The state Department of Transportation and Development recently billed the city of Walker $1.3 million for work done more than 12 years ago. At the same time, DOTD was months late on paying the Division of Administration $246 in publishing costs.
Other long-term delinquent bills include:
— $509,089 in unpaid student fees at LSU, LSU's Paul M. Hebert Law Center and the LSU AgCenter.
— $649,895 owed by the city of Mansfield for utility work. Payment is more than a year overdue.
— $2.7 million in federally mandated rebates on drugs dispensed to Medicaid patients.
A Christus Health official said she was unaware the hospital system owed the state money despite DEQ logging the mailing of several past due notices over 234 days.
"Any legitimate debt that is not paid by Christus Schumpert Medical Center is an oversight and will be taken care of," said Kristen Gary, spokeswoman for Christus Health Shreveport-Bossier.
City of Mansfield officials refused comment on why they have not paid the $649,895 they were invoiced on June 1, 2011.
Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, the governor's chief budget adviser, said he is studying the possibility of selling 25 percent of the state's long-term delinquent bills.
State Treasurer John Kennedy said he sometimes gets bad checks for projects pursuing borrowing through the State Bond Commission, which he chairs.
He said bounced checks result in a call to the attorney general's office, which collects debt for 22 state entities and a number of public colleges.
Kennedy said the state needs a centralized debt collection agency.
"No business in the real world could handle its receivables like the state of Louisiana does and stay in business," he said.
Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com