Skip to comments.Wooley defends vehicle purchase (Louisiana Insurance Commissioner)
Posted on 04/21/2005 7:31:55 AM PDT by Ellesu
Insurance Commissioner Robert Wooley said Wednesday that he didn't swindle taxpayers by having the state buy him two luxury vehicles in two years. Wooley characterized the controversy as "a pimple on a bee's ass."
He made his first public comments on the controversy outside a committee room at the State Capitol, where a panel of lawmakers rapidly reviewed his department's $28.1 million budget proposal for the upcoming year.
The budget didn't draw any questions from the House Appropriations Committee.
The committee's chairman, Rep. John Alario, D-Westwego, attributed the speediness to the fact that the department relies on fees and self-generated revenue.
"Since it's not general fund you're tapping into, I guess it doesn't bother us as much," Alario told Wooley.
Wooley interjected that his budget apparently bothers some people.
A bill filed for consideration in the upcoming legislative session would require statewide elected officials to get approval from lawmakers before using state dollars to buy a luxury vehicle.
On March 17, Wooley replaced a designer-edition vehicle that was a year old with a new pickup with a series of special options.
The $40,000 special edition Harley-Davidson truck came with heated seats, a camper package and diesel engine.
Wooley defended the purchase Tuesday, noting he cut his agency's spending 5 percent at the governor's request.
He also said that he opted for a regular paint job rather than the flame decals that were part of the package.
Wooley said he saw the truck on a lot, wanted it, and felt the purchase was justified because he drives all over the state.
The truck replaced a 2004 Ford Eddie Bauer-designer edition Expedition that had 30,000 miles on it.
Wooley said he declines other perks, such as having the state charter him a plane or pay for his cell phone calls.
"Cell phones, airplanes, stuff like that, get you in trouble," he said, adding that he didn't think a Ford truck would raise objections.
Wooley said his job guarantees him an $85,000-a-year salary and a vehicle. He said he didn't try to cover up the truck purchase, although he acknowledges he purposely didn't respond to initial press inquiries about it.
"I didn't try to hide it," he said. "I wasn't going to have a press release on it either."
He later joked that the department will buy a boat to put the truck's hitch to use.
Wooley said he has saved the state millions of dollars by paying cash for the new building his department occupies. He said he didn't fuss when asked to cut his budget or when told to lease equipment that the state owns free and clear.
He said he has no intention of going down the path that his three predecessors did and land in prison.
"I ain't going to jail," Wooley said. "I sleep well every night."
Wooley blamed "enemies" for spreading rumors that he had promoted his brother to an executive position at the Insurance Department.
Wooley said the rumor isn't true, even though the department's Web site listed his younger brother Rick Wooley as an assistant commissioner until a week ago.
Assistant Commissioner Amy Whittington said a mix-up led to a mistake on the Web site.
Wooley said his brother works hard but can't be rewarded for it because they are related.
State anti-nepotism laws prohibit government officials from hiring relatives. But Rick Wooley worked at the department before his brother took it over. Under the law, Rick Wooley can remain on the payroll and receive "normal" promotions from his brother.
Robert Wooley said he can't give his brother a promotion because it would end up on the front page of the newspaper.
"My brother is probably being disserved by staying in my department," he said.
Wooley said his enemies are trying to embarrass him. He said their efforts are fruitless.
"They're not going to intimidate me out of doing my job," he said.
Jim Brown, Sherman Bernard, Doug Green. The 3 previous insurance commissioners. All jailed.
Actually, they (heated seats) aren't as much of a frivolous item as you might think, even in Louisiana. On cold days, even if only the 40s, the truck heater can take a while to come up to temperature, particularly with a big diesel. If you spend a lot of time in the saddle, running the heater can make the cab really stuffy. Turning down the heater, and just using the heated seats, can make a long trip much more tolerable. Is the truck a bit excessive? Maybe, but no more than the limos that other high officials use. I don't know what the Insurance Commissioner's duties are, but I'd rather see him drop $40k on a truck, than $40k on a Lincoln (besides, with the condition Ford is in right now, he probably got a pretty screamin' deal on that truck). Also, if I had a Ford Exploder, I'd dump it too, even if it was an Eddie Bauer edition.
Only two points here...
Why with only 30K miles on the odometer was the vehicle not satisfactory?
Why wasn't competitive bidding utilized?
If he is putting 30,000 miles on a vehicle in a year, he needs a good vehicle.
If the explorer went into the state motor pool for use by other agencies (or his agency), it is still a good deal. My bosses always drove the new vehicles, letting us peons use the 2-3 year old ones.
Much ado about nothing.
As to point 1, have you ever ridden in a ford Explorer? They aren't very spacious, particularly the "luxury" versions, where the seats are a bit overstuffed to try to add some cache to the interior. Also, even with the recent redesign to an independent rear suspension, they are not well-engineered vehicles, and are still unsafe.
Regarding point 2, I am not sure what you mean. This vehicle was not bought through the state. The commissioner bought it himself, as he is allowed to do (I believe). This isn't like buying fleet vehicles for the DPW or cop cars or something.
In the grand scheme of things, 40K for a truck is not that big of a deal. However Louisiana is so deep in debt they are proposing tax after tax this session, meanwhile the state's elected officials carry on with their spending.
Louisiana buys $40,000 truck for insurance commissioner
March 19, 2005
The Associated Press
BATON ROUGE -- Louisiana has bought a $40,000 pickup -- a Ford F-250 that sports red flames on its sides, heated seats and a six-disc CD player -- for Insurance Commissioner Robert Wooley.
That follows the state's purchase of a 2004 Eddie Bauer designer edition Ford Expedition for about $40,000 for Wooley just more than a year ago.
Wooley sees nothing wrong with the state buying him two luxury vehicles within two years, said his spokeswoman, Amy Whittington.
Statewide elected officials are exempt from a law prohibiting most state workers from getting luxury vehicles at taxpayer expense.
In a letter to the Division of Administration, an arm of the governor's office, explaining the purchase of the F-250, Wooley touted the Harley-Davidson designer edition's handling and reliability. The letter did not explain the need for the CD player, privacy glass, a diesel engine, a seat warmer or the truck's Harley-Davidson motorcycle logo.
State slated to pay $975,000 to golf course next year
By MELINDA DESLATTE/Associated Press Writer
BATON ROUGE (AP) -- Lawmakers are weighing cuts to health care services for the poor and uninsured next year as the state prepares to pay nearly $1 million to a golf facility for rounds not played on the course.
An estimated $975,000 is budgeted next fiscal year to pay for 7,800 rounds of golf at the Tournament Players Club golf course in the New Orleans area as part of a 2001 agreement with former Gov. Mike Foster's administration.
The agreement guaranteed the golf course -- the TPC of Louisiana at Fairfield -- 10,000 rounds of play booked through hotels in its first year of operation. Those projected rounds of golf are falling short so the state has to pay for the gap, according to Christopher Keaton, a budget analyst with the House Fiscal Division.
''We're contractually obligated,'' he told the House Appropriations Committee, which opened its detailed hearings on the budget Tuesday.
The golf money is included in Gov. Kathleen Blanco's $18 billion spending proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The state has a five-year agreement, starting in the upcoming budget year, with the golf course that could leave the state on the hook for as much as $1.9 million in the final year if certain numbers of rounds of golf aren't booked through New Orleans hotels, Keaton said.
Each round of golf costs $125, according to the budget figures.
''We seem to have our priorities crossed,'' said Rep. John Smith, D-Leesville.
The cooperative endeavor agreement with the Foster administration was designed to build a course that would attract a professional golf tournament each year, according to Keaton. The course, which opened in spring 2004, will host the Zurich Classic of New Orleans beginning in 2005, part of the PGA golf tour.
Mark Drennen, a former Foster administration official whose office signed the agreement with the golf course, said it was designed to keep the professional golf tournament in Louisiana after another course expressed readiness to drop the event.
Drennen said he didn't participate in the negotiations of the deal, but he said the tournament brings days of positive publicity to Louisiana and is important to the hospitality and tourism industries by bringing tourists to the state for a multi-day tournament.
''They wanted what seemed like a very minimum of rounds guaranteed,'' he said.
Drennen said the intent was that people staying at hotels in the region who played at the TPC course would be counted toward the state's guarantee even if they didn't necessarily book through the hotels.
Maris LeBlanc, with Blanco's Division of Administration, said the local tourism agencies in New Orleans are working to get more rounds of golf at the TPC course booked through hotels so the state's cost wouldn't be as large.
Lawmakers on the appropriations committee were told of the golf course payment on the same morning Commissioner of Administration Jerry Luke LeBlanc, Blanco's chief budget architect, told the committee members that the budget still lacks money to pay for some services, particularly in health care.
''We are going to have some tough decisions to make,'' LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc estimated the budget was short about $200 million in state dollars, a number that only grows when federal matching dollars that would be generated by the cash are included. Much of the shortfall is in health care services for the poor and uninsured.
Odom confident of plant's approval
By MICHELLE MILLHOLLON
Capitol news bureau
Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom apparently is optimistic that the state will give the go-ahead to the $85 million cane-syrup mill proposed for the Bunkie area.
Odom's been working to discredit a study that concluded the Bunkie plant would collapse under the weight of its own debt within a decade.
An economic consultant hired to examine the project concluded last week that the plant wouldn't be profitable.
John Cropley with LMC International Ltd. told lawmakers that the plant being pushed by Odom would be $76 million in the hole with $15.4 million still outstanding in construction loans by 2031.
Cropley said costs for the project would exceed profits after 10 years, partly because of inflation and declining sugar prices.
Cropley also estimated it would cost closer to $105 million to build the plant.
I have heard about this. If you are in the area check out The Moon Griffon Show a Monroe LA based talk show that gets after taxes and waste in government. Check his web site. http://moongriffon.com/
Thanks, here's another:
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