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Pattern emerges after another subpar audit

As an election swings into place, it has become clear that appointees of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards will defend aggressively – if unconvincingly – missteps made by state government under his watch.

Earlier this month, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor issued a rather critical report about Department of Public Safety activities. Some of its officials tried to wiggle out of the blame, citing inconvenience and alleged shortcomings of past administrations, but what it really came down to was a failure of will of Edwards appointees to take seriously proper stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

The pattern repeats now with an audit released earlier this week concerning the Department of Revenue. This reviewed procedures in place to ensure accuracy in preparation of the state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. The state uses this information to predict revenues for the fiscal year, among other things. Inaccuracies could lead to surprise budget deficits.

Auditors discovered LDR overstated net receivables by $31.1 million, with proposed tax assessments collected of $28.4 million included in the collection amount of actual tax returns of $59.5 million, and overstated the amount of protested taxes to be transferred to the general fund by an estimated $25.8 million. In the former instance, proposed assessments that in one case historically were collected at a 5 percent rate and in the other at a 50 percent rate LDR put both on the books at 100 percent, and in the latter instance it assumed all assessments as a certainty to be collected, thus eligible for transfer.

As in the case of DPS, management responses took on a mixture of dog-ate-homework and blame-shifting. With receivables, the agency alleged that, instead of hard and fast rules, its staff reviewed each case to make an approximation that the Auditor failed to capture. Yet that explanation seems dubious given the historical record and appears more as an attempt to create extra funding than following sound actuarial practice. With the recognition of taxes deposited into the general fund, LDR claimed this came from a software calibration error not sufficiently tested, run by the Division of Administration. But, in fact, auditors noted they found no such error in the system, and LDR failed to respond to their request to explicate how it derived the figure that it did.

Whether LDR deliberately tried to inflate revenue numbers to give the Edwards Administration more potential spending authority or it did not competently calculate numbers in these instances, the report doesn’t say. But it made clear that LDR wouldn’t own up to these particular erroneous data, regardless of how they occurred, thereby emulating DPS.

Edwards has sought to make administrative competence as part of the narrative of his tenure. During his 2015 campaign, he decried “fictions” of wishful thinking and accounting tricks as contributors to state fiscal instability, which he pledged to weed out with “honesty.” Audits such as those received by DPS and LDR leave him open to those very charges he once made as the upcoming 2019 campaign progresses.

Thus, you have his appointees contesting audit results that indicate reluctance at times to administer funds, whether on the spending or revenue side, in a responsible manner. The irony, of course, is that their explanations seem congruent with the dissembling attitude Edwards had alleged infused fiscal discussions prior to his arrival.

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