The Daily Dime: September 2012

The Louisiana Budget Project’s “The Daily Dime” is a morning overview of news regarding state budget issues affecting low and moderate income families, written by policy analyst David Gray. To receive it directly in your inbox email davidgray@lano.org.

Friday, September 28, 2012
A new report estimates that the Affordable Care Act would reduce the number of uninsured Louisianans by 640,000, while Gov. Mitt Romney’s health-care plan would increase the number of uninsured by 160,000.

In the four weeks since Hurricane Isaac made landfall in Louisiana, FEMA approved 189,000 residents for $90 million worth individual assistance, including $21.8 million for St. John the Baptist Parish residents, $13 million for Livingston Parish and Tangipahoa Parish residents, and $12.2 million for Jefferson Parish residents.

A federal judge approved a $37.5 million class-action lawsuit against companies that made FEMA trailers during Hurricane Katrina and were used by residents who were exposed to hazardous fumes from the trailers. Around 55,000 residents from Louisiana,Mississippi,Alabama, and Texas will split the award.

The Louisiana Revenue Study Commission is holding its third meeting Friday. The 14-member panel will continue its review of the hundreds of exemptions to Louisiana’s sales tax, including the state’s tax-free shopping program and the tax break granted on the sale of polyroll tubing.

The political appointee in charge of implementing Louisiana’s controversial new system for evaluating public school teachers is 27 years old, makes $77,000 per year and spent two years in a New Orleans classroom as part of the Teach for America program, the Advocate reports. At least one state legislator thinks Molly Horstman should renew her own teaching certificate before she judges the job performance of 60,000 educators.

Officials from the Louisiana Chemical Association and the Louisiana Chemical Industry Alliance did not list tax breaks as core to helping the state’s petrochemical industry’s recent boom. According to the Louisiana Chemical Association President, growth requires consistent regulation, a less litigious legal climate, strong infrastructure, and a well-prepared workforce.

Finally, Louisiana is offering ExxonMobil a $1.8 million modernization tax credit payable over five years as the company expands its Baton Rouge and Port Allen plants. ExxonMobil is also expected to use the state’s enterprise zone and industrial tax exemption incentive programs.

17 percent of freshmen who entered high school in 2006 dropped out before their 2010 graduation. (Source: The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana)

Thursday, September 27, 2012
The Louisiana Department of Revenue is proposing new alternative fuel tax credit regulations that exclude owners of flex fuel vehicles and reduce the credit’s cost to $10 million a year, down from an estimated $250 million a year.Louisiana may owe $400 million in possible back tax credits since the new regulations will not take effect until Dec. 20.

Interim Revenue Secretary Jane Smith is disputing the back tax credit estimate, claiming that the authorization of the emergency rule extending the credit to flex fuel vehicles did not follow the law. According to Smith, “The claims filed after the emergency rule was rescinded will be reviewed based on the actual intent of the statue, not the (original) rule.”

According to the Times-Picayune editorial board, “This mess should be a cautionary tale about the dangers and unintended consequences of tax credits.”

Gov. Bobby Jindal is proposing to shift $20 million in hurricane recovery dollars to the state’s free preschool program for at-risk students. The funds do not increase the number of children admitted to the LA-4 preschool program, but would be used to fill budget gaps created when federal stimulus dollars disappeared.

John Maginnis added his voice to those who question whether the Legislature has the stomach to stand up to the governor on tax and budget issues by suspending some of the tax exemptions that are costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

The Louisiana Board of Regents believes Southern University’s restructuring is a model for other state colleges to follow in an era of higher education budget cuts. Southern trimmed down its course offerings to focus on popular programs and is attracting students to online courses.

Finally, the Louisiana Bicentennial Commission is expecting to raise over $100,000 through the sale of items on it’s website, including a limited number of shotguns, rifles, and items sold my Mignon Faget and Alder’s Jewelry. Louisiana received admission into the Union on April 30, 1812.

In 2008,Louisiana residents paid $205 million in loan fees to payday loan stores. (Source: LBP)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012
New Orleans is pursuing federal Medicaid expansion even though Gov. Bobby Jindal opted out earlier this year. According to the city’s Health Commissioner Karen DeSalvo, “Should the governor not expand Medicaid as allowed through the Affordable Care Act, our administration is working with the (federal) Department of Health and Human Services on looking into some options to provide universal coverage for our residents.”

A recent report by LBP found that 240,000 working Louisiana residents statewide would gain health coverage in 2014 if the whole state were to take advantage of the Medicaid opportunity.

United Healthcare may sue the state for awarding a contract to manage state employee health plans to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana. United alleges that Blue Cross/Blue Shield received the contract, worth $37.8 million a year, due to flawed analysis, objectionable scoring and favoritism.

Fresh on the heels of last week’s dismal of poverty numbers, Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret hits back with a letter to the Advocate arguing that Louisiana is doing better than ever.

The House Health and Welfare Committee is scheduled to meet Oct. 4 to discuss cuts to LSU’s public hospital system. But the Times-Picayune’s James Gill thinks the Legislature will continue to be pushed around by the governor’s office.

Lawmakers increased the number of charities and nonprofit groups that can receive state income tax refunds from taxpayers, who donated $333,159 during fiscal year 2010-2011. Some of the organizations added to the donation lists may be dropped, however, due to a state law requiring the Department of Revenue to remove from returns any organization that did not receive at least $10,000 in donations for two consecutive years.

Entergy is attempting to join a regional transmissions group to save the company and its Louisiana customers over $1.4 billion over 10 years. The transmissions group, Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, will make sure that Entergy’s customers receive energy from the least costly sources.

Finally, the Advocate reports that landowners interested in selling property to help Louisiana and federal coastal forest conservation efforts have until Friday to apply for part of the $7.4 million available in the second round of applications.

Louisiana had 20,755 K-12 students who were homeless in 2011. That’s down from 28,959 in 2007. (Source: Louisiana Department of Education)

 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Louisiana paid $7.4 million for an expanded alternative-fuels tax credit program, according to records obtained by the Associated Press. The costs were incurred in the two months before Gov. Bobby Jindal rescinded an administrative rule that said the credit would apply to “flex-fuel” vehicles—a change that could have cost the state up to $100 million.

The Advocate editorial board wonders why the state education department is hiring a $12,000 per month spokeswoman at a time when education funding is frozen—and why the part-time Board of Elementary and Secondary Education needs its own full-time communications director

State leaders, the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA officials are meeting Tuesday to evaluate the preparation, response, and recovery efforts for Hurricane Isaac. Louisiana’s total damage estimates from the hurricane to date are $474 million-$312 million from parishes and $161 million from the state.

Meanwhile, a federal appeals court ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers is not liable for Hurricane Katrina’s damages to the Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard parishes. The ruling closes the door on 300,000 lawsuits against the Corps, unless plaintiffs win an appeal with the full U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court.

Add State Treasurer John Kennedy to the list of public officials who think a special legislative session is needed to review Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget maneuverings, which include hospital and prison closures. Kennedy labeled the governor’s claims of insufficient funds for the hospitals as “not accurate,” and believes the state can save money by eliminating over 19,000 consulting contracts.

LSU’s health chief, Dr. Frank Opelka, announced the university’s plans to send residents to private hospitals and clinics for their training, noting that many patients receive care from clinical collaboratives rather than hospitals. Former health chief Dr. Fred Cerise believes the move will negatively impact LSU’s medical training programs.

The federal government will auction 38 million acres of offshore oil and gas leases in theGulf of Mexico next year. A portion of the money from the sales will go towards costal protection and restoration projects inLouisiana. A similar lease sale in June 2012 generated $1.7 billion.

Finally, the Louisiana Revenue Study Commission is hosting its third meeting on Sept. 28 and will review 42 tax exemptions. Information on the meeting’s location and a list of the exemptions for review are located on the committee’s website.

Louisiana has the second lowest childcare tuition subsidy reimbursement rates for infants and toddlers in the nation, behind only Mississippi. (Source: National Women’s Law Center)

Monday, September 24, 2012
The “wealth gap” between white and black families has widened during the Great Recession, the Advocate reports. Black families had an average net worth of $4,995 in 2010, down from $12,100 in 2005. The average white family had a $135,000 net worth in 2005 and a $110,000 net worth in 2010.

Legislators continue to express frustration about being shut out from major decisions about the state budget, including the shuttering of a state prison in DeQuincy and a psychiatric hospital in Mandeville. But House Speaker Chuck Kleckley told the Associated Press that the status quo is OK with him: “I don’t know that we need to be making the decisions about what should be closed and what shouldn’t be closed. I think we should leave that to the professionals.”

Louisiana Progress led a “Louisiana Medicaid Misery Bus Tour” this weekend criticizing the governor’s recent state health care cuts. The tour began in New Orleans, and passed through Mandeville, Independence and Baton Rouge before ending in Pineville.

Hurricane Isaac caused $474 million of damage as of Sept. 23, and the state spent $135 million in hurricane response. The federal government will pay 90 percent of the storm’s costs if the total amount of damages surpasses $593 million.

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers is requesting a special session of the state legislature to reconsider Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education package. While the proposal is a long shot, LFT President Steve Monaghan believes lawmakers must review the proposal “before public education suffers irreparable harm in our state.”

Former LSU hospital chief Fred Cerise believes the medical system will be less attractive to high quality medical school graduates if the state reduces the number of beds at medical education facilities and relocates graduates to various hospitals across the state.

Civil attorneys for sex offenders will receive $110 per hour from the state. Legislators also approved $250,000 for the Sex Offender Assessment Panel process, which allows the state to attach electronic ankle bracelets to sex offenders released from prison.

Finally, the deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 6 election is Oct. 9. Information about how to register is available at the Louisiana Secretary of State.

Number of the Day: 18.9

Louisiana’s average poverty rate from 2009 thru 2011 was 18.9 percent, the fifth highest in the nation behind Mississippi, New Mexico, District of Columbia, and Arizona. (Source: US Census Bureau)

Friday, September 21, 2012
According to new Census data,Louisiana’s poverty rate rose to 20.4 percent in 2011, a 1.7-point increase over 2010 and the third worst in the nation behindNew Mexico andMississippi. The share of Louisianans without health insurance remained essentially unchanged at 17.5 percent.

The Times-Picayune said the latest Census figures are a sign that the national economic downturn has finally caught up with Louisiana.

Meanwhile, the Shreveport Times editorial board says the latest numbers are more evidence that Gov. Bobby Jindal needs to re-think his decision to refuse the upcoming Medicaid expansion, which could help 240,000 working Louisianans receive health coverage.

A political battle is brewing over how to use the state’s $130 million projected surplus from the 2011-12 fiscal year. The state actually collected $212 million above expenses last year, but $80 million is obligated to a bond buyback program. The Legislature voted earlier this year to use any remaining surplus towards replenishing the rainy day fund, but Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration wants to plug most the money into the health-care budget to offset the loss of federal Medicaid funds.

A campaign to recall Gov. Bobby Jindal and House Speaker Chuck Kleckley did not acquire enough votes to force another election. The teachers leading the campaign disapproved of the governor’s education reform plan, which pushes more students and funding into private and charter schools.

Supreme Court Justice Bernette Johnson’s lawyers are seeking $380,000 from the state for attorney’s fees and expenses incurred during her lawsuit to become the state’s first African-American chief justice.

Finally, the State Bond Commission preliminarily authorized $97.6 million to build a hospital in Eastern New Orleans. Hospital officials say 41 percent of the users will be Medicare patients, 30 percent will be Medicaid patients and about 4 percent will be charity cases.

Friday, September 2012
57.7 percent of Louisiana children living in a female-headed household live in poverty (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

 

Thursday, September 20, 2012
The poverty rate in Louisiana grew to 20.4 percent in 2011 from 18.7 percent the previous year, according to new U.S. Census data released this morning. LBP will post a detailed explanation of the new data, which also includes information about health-insurance coverage, on our website this afternoon.

The state Department of Education has hired a former aide to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for $12,000 per month to help spread the word about the sweeping changes inLouisiana’s public schools. Dierdre Finn told The Advocate that she plans to split her time betweenBaton Rouge andTallahassee but will work full-time.

The U.S. House approved FEMA funding for another two years and included provisions that expedite the distribution of money to local governments. The U.S. House also approved the “Buffett Rule”, introduced by Rep. Steve Scalise and named after famed investor Warren Buffett, which would allow taxpayers to check a box on their federal tax returns to pay extra to help offset the federal deficit.

About 39 percent of Louisianawho filed tax returns in 2008 did not owe federal income tax – the seventh highest percentage in the country. Bruce Alpert of the Times-Picayune reports that’s largely because of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which was first developed in 1975 by Louisiana Sen. Russell Long.

Hurricane Isaac caused $7.4 million in damages to state parks and a historic fort, according to Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne. The state is trying to determine how much of the damage is covered by insurance before paying for minor repairs out of an existing fund.

The state will spend $13.9 million for an automobile training facility at Baton Rouge Community College. The new spending comes as the state plans to close Southeast Louisiana Hospital and the C. Paul Phelps Correctional Center for financial reasons.

The 2011 seafood catch in the Gulf of Mexico reached its highest volume since 1999, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. Nationally, Louisiana posted the second largest catch volume with 1.5 billion pounds. In all, the value of last year’s Gulf catch rose 25 percent to $797 million.

Louisiana is collecting applications from private firms, colleges, and online groups to launch online classes for the state’s 82,000 special education students, who comprise 12 percent of public school enrollment. The Department of Education wants schools to provide online exams for all students by the 2014-2015 school year.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit against the Vermillion Parish Sheriffs Office for withholding federal immigration detainee forms. SPLC believes sheriffs in 63 parishes detained immigrants in local jails for more than 48 hours, which is prohibited by federal law. The Louisiana Sheriffs Association believes federal immigration detainee forms fall outside the state’s Public Records Act.

Finally, Lafayette city-parish officials approved a $500,000 annual subsidy for the Cajundome and Convention Center. While the move allows the city-parish to host a convention center for a lower cost than a city-owned center, some believe officials should use the money to fund fire services for the area’s growing population.

 

28.8 percent of Louisiana children live in poverty (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012
State Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard of Thibodaux sent a letter to his legislative colleagues trying to stir up support for a special session to address the budget cuts that have come since lawmakers adjourned their regular session in early June. “I believe that we are witnessing a complete disregard of the Legislative branch’s powers by this administration and must address this immediately or we shall find ourselves completely left out of the budget process,” Richard wrote in the letter, which was circulated by attorney/blogger C.B. Forgotston.

The Lake Charles American-Press is not happy about the closure of the C. Paul Phelps Correctional Facility and the 200-plus jobs that will be lost as a result. And they were hoping for a stronger response from House Speaker Chuck Kleckley: “We’re confident that had a similar closing happened in the area of Kleckley’s predecessor, Jim Tucker, you can bet Tucker would have been leading the complaints. Not Kleckley, who is deep into Jindal’s back pocket.”

Many state lawmakers were caught off guard by the idea of closing the prison since it was not discussed in legislative budget hearings or in discussions with lawmakers representing the area. Mayors from DeQuincy, Lake Charles, and Vinton will meet with state legislators Sept. 19 to discuss future plans for Phelps employees.

On the conservative north shore, the desire for smaller government doesn’t apply to the planned closure of SoutheastLouisianaHospital. Stephanie Grace reports that area legislators are upset with the administration for giving them little notice before shutting down the state-run psychiatric hospital, which has 563 employers and 174 inpatient beds.

State government has shed more than 15,000 jobs since July 2008, including 448 positions since July 1, according to the state Department of Civil Service.

More than 178,500 Louisiana residents affected by Hurricane Isaac applied for FEMA individual assistance grants as of Sept. 18, bringing FEMA’s total approved assistance to $100 million.

Meanwhile, two health care groups are suing Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon, claiming that he exceeded his authority after Hurricane Isaac by issuing an emergency rule to eliminate higher charges for patients receiving care outside of their health care network.

Iowa, La., businessman Lee Mallet gave $670,000 in political campaign contributions since 2007, including $20,000 to Gov. Bobby Jindal. But he told the American-Press that the donations had nothing to do with his recent appointment to the LSU Board of Supervisors. “It’s pure coincidence,” Mallet said.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration is a disaster for Louisiana’s largest college system, according to an opinion by The Advocate Editorial Board, which warns that growing cuts to smaller campuses that focus on undergraduate education jeopardize their status as universities.

A new report released by the Trust for America’s Health projects Louisiana’s obesity rate will be 62 percent by 2030. The state’s current obesity rate – 33 percent – is second highest in the nation behind Mississippi.

New Orleans officials may ease constraints on its Lot Next Door program so the city can sell the 3,000 blighted properties currently on its books. To date, the program generated $13.7 million through the sale of 1,043 properties.

Tangipahoa Parish officials are planning to spend $54.5 million to reach desegregation goals by building three new schools. Proponents say the new schools are necessary due to overcrowding, but critics believe that voluntary desegregation through magnet programs is a very successful option.

Finally, federal and state agencies paid $1.7 million to nutria hunters between November 2011 and March 2012 for catching more than 354,000 of the pesky overgrown water rats.  Wildlife officials estimate that the invasive species impacted 4,233 acres of wetlands in 2012.

 

Louisiana cut $28 million from its child care assistance program that serves working families and is one of the few sources of public aid for children under age 4 (Source: Louisiana Partnership for Children & Families)

 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012
President Barack Obama and Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan will address the AARP meeting in New Orleans on Friday. Both speeches will focus on Medicare and other issues important to seniors.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is in hot water after stating that 47 percent of Obama’s supporters are dependent on the government for aid, believe the government should take care of them, and do not pay income taxes. Romney made the comments during a private fundraiser – $50,000 per ticket – earlier this year that was secretly recorded.

Newly retired University of Louisiana System President Randy Moffett told the Associated Press that he favors restrictions to the TOPS scholarship program, and that his retirement was prompted in part by the budget cuts and layoffs that hit the state’s colleges in recent years.

State officials are continuing to research how Louisianacan recover approximately $1.4 billion owed to the state in uncollected taxes and unpaid fees. Among the solutions offered by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration: withholding tax refunds, charging late fees and selling part of the debt to a third party, which would then be responsible for collection.

LSU hospital’s new leader sharply criticized the governor’s budget cuts for public hospitals in a February letter to the Baton Rouge Advocate, the AP reports. “Yes, he is saving money. But to save money and lose your soul in doing so, I have to ask if that is the Christian way?”

An investigation by the Aviation Director at LouisArmstrongInternationalAirportrevealed 153 agreements for leases, projects and services that do not have written, binding contracts. The handshake deals comprise the majority of the airport’s $41 million budget.

Also, Southwest, United, American, and Jet Blue raised their fares by $10 per round trip on flights serving Armstrong International.

James Carter is leaving his position asNew Orleans’ criminal justice commissioner to focus on his private legal practice.

Entergy Corp. said Hurricane Isaac’s damage cost the company up to $500 million. The company plans to recover those costs through a combination of reserves, borrowed money, higher charges and insurance.

Finally, the League of Women Voters of Baton Rouge is hosting a discussion about the privatization of public service inLouisiana. The Sept. 20 lunch starts at 11:15 a.m. in the Audubon Room at Drusilla Seafood.

Fifty-two percent of Louisianachildren under age six live in low-income families, defined as income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. (Source: National Center for Children in Poverty)

 

Monday, September 17, 2012
Almost 200 state jobs will disappear when thePhelpsCorrectionalCenter in DeQuincy is shut down later this year. Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration announced the closure, which is expected to save $2.6 million, in a news release late Friday afternoon.

Across Louisiana, weekly unemployment claims spiked by 6,000 between August 27 and September 8, largely due to Hurricane Isaac. Most of the new claims represented construction, retail, and health care workers – industries that would experience large increases in health insurance coverage if Gov. Bobby Jindal took advantage of the federal Medicaid expansion.

More than 300 district attorneys across the country have partnered with debt-collection companies to hassle people who bounce checks, according to this expose in the New York Times.

Fifteen juvenile detention centers – both privately operated and publically owned – are seeking state licenses for the first time. The centers have until July 1 to improve educational resources for incarcerated teens and provide them with improved health care services, including mental health screenings.

Hurricane Isaac will not increase insurance premiums in the state, according to Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon.

Forum Energy Technologies is opening a new 150,000-square-foot facility in St. Martin Parish by 2014, creating 125 new jobs with average salaries of $45,000.

The Universityof Florida’s Citizen Action Project named Louisianathe least transparent state in the nation, according to an opinion by The Town Talk editorial board that disapproves the state’s broad interpretation of the deliberative process exemption.

Also, the Advocate editorial board weighed in on Gov. Jindal’s cuts to public education systems, this time focusing on the University of Louisiana system. Since 2008, the university system saw its state funding cut by $208 million, laid off 1,850 workers and raised tuition on students from $3,800 to $5,500 a year.

The University of Louisiana-Lafayette received a $1.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation last week to provide 20 teachers fromIberia,Lafayette, and Vermilion parishes with professional development skills that will increase students’ interest in science-based careers. Participating teachers will receive a $10,000 stipend annually during the four-year program.

Finally, the Orleans Parish School Board unanimously approved a $42 million budget for the 2013 fiscal year, which is a five percent decrease from last year’s budget. The board will send $70 million in local tax dollars to charter schools and $132 million to theRecoverySchool District.

 

 

Louisiana will lose 22 percent of its federal discretionary grants under the 2014 Ryan Budget. The state currently receives $4.615 billion, but Ryan would reduce funding for the state by $1.017 billion. (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)

 

 

Friday, September 14, 2012
State legislators are feeling left out as Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration and LSU executives try to re-engineer the state’s charity hospital system in the wake of deep budget cuts. House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, Senate President Pro-Tem Sharon Weston Broome, D-Baton Rouge, and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, are among those being kept in the dark.

The Louisiana Department of Education released new figures Thursday showing that 4,944 students are using the state’s expanded school voucher program to pay for private school. The average scholarship cost $5,300, is bringing the estimated overall cost to over $26,203,000.

The Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corporation agreed to pay $61 million to settle a lawsuit regarding the slow processing of claims from hurricanes Katrina and Hurricane Rita. The state-run property insurer of last resort paid some policyholders $104 million following a court judgment in July.

A plan to save $56 million in Medicaid costs by changing the way pharmacists are reimbursed has come under fire from community pharmacists, who say it will cut into their profits.

The national controversy regarding voter identification laws led Louisiana’s Secretary of State Office to audit all the voter affidavits in the 2008 presidential election – revealing zero cases of voter fraud in Louisiana. Louisiana voters without an ID complete affidavits at the polls to prove their identity.

Individuals typically receiving food stamps – not those applying for emergency food stamps – will receive disaster benefits on their cards before Sunday. After the storm, the state reallocated 30 percent of beneficiaries’ August allotment plus their entire September allotment to their cards for emergency purposes. Still, many residents need their entire August allotment to pay for food that spoiled in power outages caused by Hurricane Isaac.

 

If you need to apply for emergency foods stamps, click here for site locations and here for the pre-application form.

Some Southern University faculty leaders are seeking a no confidence vote for the system’s president, Ronald Mason.

GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney says people with annual incomes up to $250,000 are “middle income.” The median household income is just above $50,000.

The Stolthaven Braithwaite petroleum and chemical plant near New Orleans released approximately 191,000 gallons of hazardous chemicals during Hurricane Isaac. Neither the state nor the company knows the type of chemical released or the total amount released, but air and surface water tests show no offsite impacts from the incident.

Finally, Baton Rouge-based Piccadilly Restaurant is filing for bankruptcy for the second time in 10 years. The company, which has 81 locations and employs more than 3,000 people, owes between $10 million and $50 million to its creditors.

Number of the Day: 43


43 percent of the state’s operating budget is comprised of federal dollars. The money is used for highways, K-12 education, health care, social services and disaster recovery. (Source: House Bill 1)

Thursday, September 13, 2012
US Census data released Wednesday show that more Louisianans are living in poverty and the percentage of the state’s population with health coverage is declining. This goes against national trends, where the poverty rate has stabilized and health coverage is increasing.

A Los Angeles Times editorial blasted Louisiana leaders for seeking a revenue sharing deal that would give the state 37.5 percent of the federal royalties from offshore drilling. Both Sen. Mary Landrieu and Rep. Cedric Richmond criticized the report as misinformed and inaccurate. The report comes as the America’s Wetlands Foundation released a report that says $50 billion is needed to restore the dwindling Gulf of Mexico wetlands.

Landrieu and Richmond also joined New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to announce a $27 million federal grant that will help the Crescent City pay for labor, equipment and debris removal related to Hurricane Isaac. The grant is in addition to the $61 million in disaster assistance FEMA already provided across the state since the storm’s landfall on August 29.

The state Department of Education is launching a new review process next month for private and parochial schools participating in Louisiana’s expanded voucher program. Private and parochial schools collect an average of $5,300 per student, with state tax dollars paying the bills for nearly 5,600 students this year.

A half-cent sales tax increase in West Feliciana Parish will allow school employees to receive annual raises based on their years of experience. The raises, which have not been awarded in two years, do not include a cost-of-living adjustment.

Lastly, the Louisiana Public Service Commission will investigate the actions of electric utilities before and during Hurricane Isaac.


27 percent of Louisiana children live in poverty. More than 134,900 children, or 12 percent live in extreme poverty. (Source: Children’s Defense Fund)

  . . .

Wednesday, September 12, 2012
The Census Bureau is releasing its findings on poverty, income, and health insurance today, and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities published several articles and blog posts to help readers understand what the Census Bureau’s data will and will not say.

Congress is likely to let Katrina-related tax breaks expire at the end of this year. These breaks include the GO Zone tax-exempt bond financing and the placed-in-service deadline for low-income housing credits.

Meanwhile, Louisiana is exploring several ways to collect $1 billion in money owed to the state. Some current options are hiring a private company to help with the collections, selling the debt through online auctions, and cataloguing the debt as uncollectable. The current costs and benefits of each alternative are unknown.

More than 140,000 Allstate policyholders will soon see a premium increase. Officials are blaming the high cost of reinsurance.

The LSU AgCenter estimates that Isaac caused approximately $100 million of Louisiana crop damage. While sugarcane farmers incurred a majority of the damage, farmers of rice, vegetable, citrus, and pecan also suffered large losses.

Thousands of residents stood in line again for emergency food stamps in Orleans and Jefferson. Some residents arrived at midnight on Tuesday morning after being turned away by noon on Monday. The state is extending the emergency food stamp deadline until Thursday in these two parishes. The Times-Picayune editorial board is not pleased with the state’s emergency food stamp distribution process.

A federal judge threw out a civil rights case for two men who were wrongly convicted of murder and spent 27 years in a Louisiana prison. The plaintiffs sued the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office for $27 million – $1 million for each year behind bars. But the judge honored a motion from the District Attorney Leon Cannizaro’s office, which said evidence withheld from the defense during the original trial was not required to be turned over for review.

Finally, Ormet Corporation plans to lay off 250 employees at its Burnside refinery due to changes in the aluminum market and recent court rulings. Orment reopened the plant in March after it was closed for five years.

240,000 Louisiana residents with jobs would receive health coverage in 2014 if the state took advantage of the opportunity to expand its Medicaid program. (Source: LBP)

 . . .

Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Eleven years ago today, terrorists struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, claiming nearly 3,000 innocent lives, including five Louisiana natives: Lt. Col. Robert J. Hymel of New Orleans; Leo Russell Keen of Sulphur; Lt. Michael Scott Lamana of Baton Rouge; Louis Calvin Williams of Mandeville; and Petty Officer 2nd Class Kevin Yokum of Lake Charles.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration is facing two lawsuits over its decision to hide records from public scrutiny using a broad interpretation of the “deliberative process exemption” in state law. Administration officials used the loophole to withhold documents regarding the state’s new school voucher program and the public relations debacle surrounding the alternative fuel tax credit.

The New York Times editorial board weighed in on behalf of Justice Bernette Johnson in the battle over who will becomeLouisiana’s next Supreme Court chief justice.

Ninety-one workers will lose their jobs by the end of the year when Staples closes its Baton Rouge call center. State and local taxpayers paid $450,000 to bring the call center operations to the capital city in 2007. The office-supply chain had promised to create 400 jobs, but only 200 workers were employed earlier this year and 91 are currently on staff.

Meanwhile, the Louisiana Board of Regents needs $13.9 million to pay for a backlog of 348 endowed professorships. The board recently placed a ban on filing new endowed professorship applications due to the funding gap, despite guaranteeing each four-year university matching funds for two endowed professorships annually and each two-year college matching funds for one endowed professorship. Endowed professorships serve a valuable role in the collegiate setting by helping to attract and retain high-quality faculty. Thus far the board funded 2,380 professorships at 39 campuses.

Hundreds of people seeking emergency food stamps were turned away Monday in Orleansand Jeffersonwhen two sites stopped accepting applications. Nearly 86,000 households have applied for emergency food stamps to date.

In the wake of the a new US Justice Department lawsuit, BP announced a sale of $5.55 billion in Gulf of Mexico assets to help cover the costs of damages incurred in the 2010 oil spill. The oil company plans to sell $38 billion in gulf assets between 2012 and 2013. In addition, Transocean announced that it is selling $885 million of its gulf assets to focus more on its ultra-deep water operations.

A new laboratory at Nicholls State University will teach students how to prevent oil rig disasters like the one experienced in 2010. Yet, some point out that the facility’s revenue source exemplifies howLouisiana’s schools are seeking corporate partners for program funding due to state budget cuts. In this instance large oil-industry partners are paying for nearly half of the $300,000 facility.

Similarly, Delgado Community College received a $10 million grant from the Navy to enhance its shipbuilding program at the Avondale shipyard, even though the shipyard is scheduled to close in 2013.


75 percent of Louisiana households receiving food stamps are headed by a working adult. (Source: US Census Bureau)

. . .

Monday, September 10, 2012
Late Friday Gov. Bobby Jindal appealed the federal court ruling that cleared the way for Justice Bernette Johnson to become the first African-American to lead the Louisiana Supreme Court. Jindal, who originally said he would leave the matter for the court’s decision, filed his appeal to determine if the federal court can stop the Louisiana Supreme Court from “interpreting the state’s constitution.”

The Louisiana Department of Education is soliciting academic courses, skills training, and work-based apprenticeships to launch its “Course Choice” program. Beginning in 2013, the program intends to offer public high school students with college credit, advanced placement courses, and technical training skills. Opponents warn that there are not enough checks to ensure that the offered courses are credible and worth state funding.

Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler is fighting back against charges from state Democratic Party officials that some voters are being stricken from state voter rolls without adequate notice.  He said voters who have moved outside their parish or have not voted in two consecutive presidential elections will be moved to an “inactive” voter list.  Voters on the inactive list can still vote if they bring proper identification to the polls. Voters can also update their information and register to vote by completing an online form.

Yesterday was the last day to benefit from this year’s Second Amendment Sales Tax Holiday. The Department of Revenue expects this year’s sales tax holiday to cost the state over $600,000 – a $12,000 increase from last year.

The U.S. Department of Energy awarded Entergy with an A+ for its ability to restore power to 90 percent of customers within five days of Isaac’s landfall. Federal officials claim that the typical benchmark is to restore power to 70 percent of customers within five to seven days. The award comes the same week as the New Orleans city council grilled Entergy on its preparation for and reaction to the storm.

The state spent $119.6 million on Hurricane Isaac as of Thursday, including $48.7 million for operations, $38.8 million for supplies, and $23.2 million for personnel. FEMA will repay 75 percent of the total expenditures; the state must cover the remaining $30 million. The state also plans to raise levees in East Carroll and Concordia parishes, an undertaking expected to cost $460,000.

Some LSU hospitals already facing budget cuts could experience deeper decreases as LSU’s new chief executive reworks funding plans made by his predecessor. The healthcare system is also engaging private companies and investors to operate some of the university’s hospitals. The public can expect decisions on these two matters by the end of the month.

In addition, LSU experienced another staff shakeup as the system’s top lawyer quit. Ray Lamonica did not leave much of an explanation for his decision to resign, but he will continue teaching at LSU’s law school. Lamonica is the third high-ranking LSU official to leave the system in the past two weeks, causing some to consider LSU administrative positions a revolving door.

Finally, the City of Shreveport is reporting significant tax revenue losses this fiscal year due to declines in the natural gas industry. The city expected to generate $188 million, but the final figure will be closer to $115 million. Officials do not know where budget cuts and consolidations will occur, but they do plan to present a new operating budget to the city council on October 1.

The average GO Grant award for a qualifying full-time student attending LSU in 2011-12 is $918—down from $1,879 just two years ago. Go Grants, which provide financial assistance to low-income college students, have been cut in recent years due to state revenue declines. (Source: Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance)

. . .

Friday, September 7, 2012
The August employment report released this morning shows the U.S. economy added 96,000 new jobs last month, fewer than analysts expected, while the unemployment rate dropped to 8.1 percent. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes that fluctuations in the national labor force participation rate are largely driven by the retirement of baby boomers.

Meanwhile, Louisianaand North Carolina’s percentage increase in food stamp use between May and June are the highest in the nation. Both states experienced a 1.3 percent increase, withLouisiana’s food stamp roles rising from 897,846 to 901,586. These figures do not include the thousands of residents that recently filed for emergency food stamps.

A week since Isaac’s landfall, FEMA is allowing residents and businesses to begin cleaning their properties. Property owners still awaiting inspection should take pictures prior to making repairs and retain a copy of all receipts for purchases and services. The federal agency conducted more than 23,000 inspections as of Thursday.

In addition to the FEMA assistance, residents can also expect to see improvements on Louisianaroads and highways damaged during Isaac after the state received a $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration Emergency Relief program.

To date, state agencies spent $166 million and parishes spent $10.1 million on Isaac relief. The state also submitted $27 million for reimbursement to FEMA.

The LSU Athletics Department is considering a first-in-the-nation fund transfer policy that would send $36 million over a five year period to support academic programs.  Also, the policy creates revenue sharing between athletics and the university. The athletics program currently contributes these funds to the school indirectly due to major university budget cuts in recent years.

Finally, today starts the Louisiana Second Amendment Weekend Sales Tax Holiday, which exempts certain guns, ammunition, and hunting accessories from all state and local sales taxes.


The Louisiana TOPS scholarship is projected to cost $255 million within five years due to unprecedented college tuition increases. (Source: LA Office of Student Financial Assistance)

. . .

Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012
Commissioner of Insurance James Donelon issued an emergency rule Wednesday preventing late fees, penalties, cancellations, or non-renewals on insurance policies for Hurricane Isaac victims. State Farm alone has processed 15,000 insurance claims – 12,000 for homes and businesses and 3,000 claims for automobiles. Anyone filing a claim should double-check their deductible, which could require you to pay between 2 and 15 percent of the repair costs out of pocket.

Meanwhile, the state’s tab for the storm has climbed to $116 million as of Wednesday.

Also, the IRS announced that individuals and business owners affected by the storm have until January 11 to file returns or make payments that were due after Aug. 26.

In addition to filing insurance claims, some Isaac victims filed a class action lawsuit against Entergy New Orleans and Entergy Louisiana. The plaintiffs accuse the Entergy companies of negligence in preparing for the hurricane despite receiving surcharges after Katrina to mitigate hurricane impacts on the system. In addition to the case, Entergy still has 9,000 customers in the dark and their CEO will retire at the end of the year.

The federal government, in a new legal filing, is accusing BP of “gross negligence” in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a designation that means the oil giant could be forced to pay up to $20 billion in fines. But if a federal court rules that the Macondo well explosion was an accident, the fines would be just a fraction of that amount. The case has significant implications forLouisiana, as  80 percent of any BP fines are dedicated toGulfCoast states.

In other news, residents are frustrated at the state’s method for distributing emergency food stamps to needy families. As one resident told WWL-TV: “We just waited too long outside in the heat… But once we got inside there [were] not enough workers, so just not going to do it today.” Adding to the dissatisfaction was the fact that thousands of emergency food stamp cards were empty. Some recipients were not aware of this fact until they were rejected at checkout time. The state says it could take three days for the cards to be activated.

Baton Rougeofficials are celebrating a $1.5 million federal grant to fight crime. The new BRAVE initiative aims to reduce violence and drug use in the city’s 70805 zip code – which accounts for 13 percent of the city’s population but nearly one-third of all murders.

Also, the Advocate announced a 7-day-a-week paper in New Orleans to fill the empty market left by the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The New Orleans-based version of the Baton Rouge-based newspaper is scheduled to debut Oct. 1. The Times-Picayune is transitioning to a 3-day-a-week paper and 24-hour online news updates.

Finally, another LSU executive lost her job this week, less than two weeks after LSU health care leader Fred Cerise was removed on August 24. Former Assistant Vice President for Health Systems Roxanne Townsend said that her new boss, Dr. Frank Opelka, decided to give administrative responsibilities of her projects to newly hired staff. Opelka contends that Dr. Townsend requested a new assignment.


Fourteen of Louisiana’s 468 tax exemptions include a sunset clause that mandates the exemptions’ expiration by 2019. (Source: Louisiana Department of Revenue)

 

. . .

Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012
The St. Tammany Parish Tax Assessor’s Office is allowing residents who sustained property damage in Hurricane Isaac to apply for a property tax reduction on their 2012 assessments. Also, the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services is collecting applications for Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance in nine parishes: Ascension, Jefferson, Lafourche, Livingston,Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard,St. John the Baptist, andSt. Tammany.

Additionally, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu joined Gov. Bobby Jindal and Sen. David Vitter in requesting additional emergency aid from the federal government. The senator’s note claimed that “less than $2 billion in federal funding is budgeted for [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] construction and there is a backlog of between $40 (billion) to $60 billion in authorized projects.”

In non Isaac-related news, a three-judge panel of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal awarded nearly $258 million to the State of Louisiana from drug maker Johnson & Johnson. The state’s attorney general argued that the company violated state law against misrepresentation and fraud by telling local doctors that one of its products – Risperdal – was safer than competing medications.

Meanwhile, a state law requiring voters to show photo ID before they can vote came under fire from former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial. Morial cautions that these laws will disenfranchise minority and low-income voters.

In the capital city, a federal judge ruled that Baton Rougedeveloper Tommy Spinoza must repay $202 million that he borrowed from an Ohio lender to finance the Perkins Rowe development, along with an additional $32,510 in interest for each day the debt is not paid. The judge also ruled that theOhio lender can foreclose on the development.

Finally, Louisiana Tech University President Dan Reneau will retire on June 30, 2013. Reneau served as the school’s president for 26 years. Louisiana Tech educates over 11,000 students from 47 states, and 71 percent of the student body receives federal aid.

Number of audits currently being conducted by New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux’s office. (Source: The Times-Picayune)