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Louisiana's ugly budget outlook grows grimmer; state in ‘its own recession,’ economist says

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS --Governor John Bel Edwards speaks during a forum hosted by Louisiana Association of Educators -- teachers and other public school employees sounding off on their education needs.

Louisiana’s already grim budget outlook got even worse on Wednesday. The panel that identifies the state’s projected income again lowered its expectations for the budget year that ends June 30, as well as the fiscal picture for the following year. State legislators, who are gearing up for a budget-focused special session this weekend, will now… Continue reading →

I-10 widening topic of three public hearings

Possible plans to widen Interstate 10 between the Mississippi River bridge and the I-10/12 split will be the subject of three more public hearings this month. The same issue was the subject of a series of public hearings last fall. DOTD is doing a feasibility study of adding a new lane in each direction on the… Continue reading →

Gov. John Bel Edwards sets special session for Feb. 14; see proclamation's details

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- As Louisiana Building and Trades Council president Robert "Tiger" Hammond, left, watches, Gov. John Bel Edwards, right, makes a point while speaking at the Louisiana State Building Construction Trades Council Annual Convention.

Louisiana legislators will be heading back to Baton Rouge on Feb. 14 to try to fix a $750 million shortfall in the state budget — just four months before the fiscal year ends. Gov. John Bel Edwards on Friday issued the proclamation calling the Legislature into a special session to try to cobble together a… Continue reading →

Area legislators make pleas for road work

Baton Rouge area lawmakers made pleas Wednesday for scarce road and bridge money during one in a series of public hearings on Louisiana’s transportation needs. The House and Senate transportation committees heard from lawmakers who represent the capital region — District 61 — as well as other elected officials and rank-and-file citizens. Shawn Wilson, secretary for… Continue reading →

State says St. Joseph’s brown drinking water is safe

Despite some parallels with Flint, Mich., the brown water flowing from the taps in the northeast Louisiana town of St. Joseph is safe, a state health officer said Wednesday. “Their complaints certainly have risen because of Flint, but it’s not a lead issue; it’s an iron issue, which is not a health issue. But it’s obviously not… Continue reading →

Jay Dardenne: 'Unprecedented, dramatic, profound changes' needed to plug massive budget hole

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Incoming Commissioner of the Division of Administration Jay Dardenne discusses the current budget crisis in Louisiana during a press conference Wednesday.

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration is preparing a spending plan in the coming weeks that will include draconian cuts to government services, along with a nonbinding letter that recommends revenue measures to offset some of those reductions should legislators choose. Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, the governor’s chief budget architect, said Monday he couldn’t yet specify what… Continue reading →

VA chief misspent thousands, audit says

Since 2013, employees at the state department charged with caring for and honoring the state’s military veterans were found to have misspent thousands of dollars and failed to report alleged crimes against veterans, according to an investigative report released Monday by the Louisiana legislative auditor and the State Inspector General’s Office. Former Veterans Affairs Secretary David LaCerte,… Continue reading →

Gov. John Bel Edwards ‘disappointed,’ says House committee lineup based on partisan, D.C.-style politics

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards Friday blasted House Speaker Taylor Barras’ decisions on who will lead and serve on House committees. Edwards said Democrats are under-represented in the mix of committee leaders, the rosters are akin to partisan, Washington, D.C.-style politics and the makeup of the committees is “not consistent” with what Barras told him beforehand.… Continue reading →

Edwards administration delays OK of key Medicaid expansion fundings

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- Louisiana's Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget met for the first time Friday, Jan. 29, 2016. The leadership is, from left to right, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie.

The Edwards administration backed away from the first test of Republican opposition to the governor’s plan to expand Medicaid when it withdrew a request to authorize hiring new employees. Because of past staff reductions, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said the state needs to hire 248 more employees to handle signing up and vetting the expected surge… Continue reading →

State senators, cautious about fiscal outlook, say they were misled in past, hoping for 'a new day'

State senators approached an already gloomy budget outlook with caution on Thursday. Several noted that they have felt misled about the state’s fiscal situation under Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration — particularly the Department of Health and Hospitals. “How do we have any comfort at all in knowing the numbers that we are hearing and seeing… Continue reading →

New analysis says Louisiana college students missed out on over $44 million in financial aid last year

Louisiana students missed out on about $44.4 million that could have helped pay for college last year because they didn't fill out the form that qualifies them for federal financial aid, according to a new analysis. NerdWallet, a personal finance website, estimates that about half of the state's high school graduates in 2014 never filled out a Free Application for Federal… Continue reading →

DOTD chief calls pay hikes approved by predecessor 'fiscally irresponsible'

Louisiana’s highway chief said Tuesday pay raises approved by his predecessor just before she left office were “fiscally irresponsible” in the midst of a state budget crisis. Shawn Wilson, who is secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, made the comment about action taken by former DOTD Secretary Sherri LeBas. Wilson was chief of… Continue reading →

Breaks for private school parents could be on the line for budget cutting

Louisiana taxpayers give $103 million annually in tax breaks and outright grants to private schools and the parents who send their kids to them. For years, legislative attempts to redirect some of that public money from private and parochial schools was a political nonstarter. But facing a dramatic budget crisis, lawmakers are eyeing cuts in… Continue reading →

Needed step for Medicaid expansion: Hiring enrollment staff

Before anyone can get insurance coverage through Louisiana’s planned Medicaid expansion, the state needs to hire the workers who will sign patients up for that coverage. Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration wants to have health care providers pick up that short-term $2.8 million cost for salaries, training and equipment — rather than the cash-strapped state health department,… Continue reading →

Why Louisiana board refuses to change pension formula to help shore up teachers’ retirement

A state board refused Thursday to go along with the legislative auditor’s recommendation to change part of the pension formula to help shore up the state teachers retirement system. School boards feared the change would saddle them with millions of more dollars in retirement costs. The little-known Public Retirement Systems’ Actuarial Committee backed the rate pushed… Continue reading →

IOUs: Gov. John Bel Edwards to owe $155M-plus to cover Bobby Jindal’s business deals

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Gov.-Elect John Bel Edwards, right, answers a question as he and Gov. Bobby Jindal, left, hosted a joint press conference at the Governor's Mansion after meeting to talk about the transition.

When Bobby Jindal exited the Governor’s Office, he left behind a string of IOUs for his economic development deals... Continue reading →

Gov. John Bel Edwards' plan to use oil spill funds at odds with lawsuit settlement

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Gubernatorial hopeful John Bel Edwards talks to the LSU Faculty senate about the future of higher education in Louisiana.

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ proposal to redirect Gulf oil spill recovery money to rebalance this year’s budget appears to conflict with a legal settlement the state struck two years ago, aimed at ending a lawsuit over Louisiana’s “rainy day” fund. Edwards wants to steer $200 million Louisiana is receiving this year from BP PLC, compensation for economic… Continue reading →

With not many 'appealing options,' Gov. John Bel Edwards, state leaders tackle $1.9 billion budget shortfall

Associated Press photo by MELINDA DESLATTEGov. John Bel Edwards, center, unveils his proposals for balancing Louisiana's budget, including a list of tax increases for legislative consideration, during a news conference Tuesday. Joining Edwards are Revenue Secretary Kimberly Robinson and Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne.

When Gov. John Bel Edwards releases his plan next month for the budget that begins July 1, it will show what state government would look like after $1.9 billion in spending cuts to address the looming revenue shortfall. It won’t be the budget he wants the state Legislature to adopt, he admitted this week. “We’re going… Continue reading →

Kathleen Blanco named to Superdome Commission

Charlotte Doyle, Gov. Kathleen Blanco

Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco and six others were named Wednesday by Gov. John Bel Edwards to replace the entire board that oversees the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Governor’s Office announced late Wednesday. Blanco, who was governor from 2004 to 2008, advised Edwards on his run for governor. The Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District is a seven-member state… Continue reading →

Former Gov. Bobby Jindal has jury duty

Carrying a sack lunch and reading material, former Gov. Bobby Jindal is reporting this week for jury duty in Baton Rouge’s 19thJudicial District Court. As of Tuesday morning, Jindal had not been chosen to hear a trial, according to an aide. His service began Monday morning. Hundreds of prospective jurors serve the week and wait in the courthouse until selected to… Continue reading →

Regardless of who briefed Obama on I-10 mess, even best scenario puts Baton Rouge traffic relief years away

While President Barack Obama was briefed on Baton Rouge traffic problems last week, any road relief near the Interstate 10 Mississippi River bridge is years away, Louisiana’s transportation chief said. Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, said the state’s push to land a $100 million federal grant this year… Continue reading →

Facing budget woes 'bigger than our state has ever seen,' Gov. John Bel Edwards proposes tax hikes, other options

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks during a news conference held to discuss budget options, Tuesday, January 19, 2016, at the State Capitol.

Gov. John Bel Edwards has offered up a menu of potential actions he says would stabilize the state budget — both in the short term and for the future: The state could increase its 4-cent sales tax by a penny, starting in April, and bring in $216 million more for the fiscal year that… Continue reading →

New House speaker has kept low profile as a state lawmaker

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, right, shares a laugh with Rep. Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, left, during the Legislative session Wednesday.

As a rank-and-file lawmaker, Louisiana’s new House Speaker Taylor Barras wasn’t one to seek the spotlight. The Republican from New Iberia never chaired a committee, and he wasn’t the face of high-profile debates during his first eight years in office. Barras’ victory as House speaker this week was a surprise, and his lack of history as a… Continue reading →

President Obama to do Twitter Q&A from McKinley High

After he holds a town hall-style discussion with a group at Baton Rouge’s McKinley High, President Barack Obama plans to stick around for a while to answer questions via Twitter. According to the White House, Obama, who arrived in Baton Rouge Wednesday evening shortly before 8 p.m., will answer questions posed to him with the hashtag #AskPOTUS. A… Continue reading →

How bad is Louisiana's budget outlook? State House members get glimpse of grim details

Louisiana’s budget outlook isn’t rosy. That point has been made repeatedly in recent months, as the state stares down a $1.9 billion revenue shortfall. On Tuesday, members of the state House were given in-depth, blow-by-blow briefings with some of the state’s top budget analysts to prepare them for just how grim things are.… Continue reading →

In rarely seen twist, last-minute candidate Taylor Barras selected Louisiana House speaker

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- A very rare contested election for House Speaker. Rep. Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, won after two voice votes for House Speaker. Former Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, right, does the ceremonial gavel pass to Rep. Barras, left, after the vote. Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, won for Speaker-Pro-Tem.

Updated at 5:40 p.m. — Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards lost his first skirmish with the Republican-dominated Louisiana Legislature when his personal choice for speaker of the Louisiana House was defeated in a rare contested election. A last-minute candidate, New Iberia Rep. Taylor Barras, a former Democrat who turned Republican in 2011, sneaked through the two partisan candidates who had battled… Continue reading →

Officials confident Louisiana will meet Real ID deadline for new identification standards

Associated Press file photo -- Louisiana residents will have to use passports rather than their driver's licenses as personal identification to board airliners starting in January of 2018, according to the federal Real ID Act of 2005. State officials, meanwhile, have gotten enforcement of the law postponed until October of this year.

Just as a Sunday deadline had much of the country fretting over whether their state’s driver’s licenses would be acceptable enough identification to board an airplane, federal authorities announced Friday afternoon they would postpone enforcing the Real ID Act until January 2018. U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson issued a statement outlining the… Continue reading →

New DOTD chief: Finding I-10 solutions top priority

Advocate Photo by BRAD KEMP Shawn Wilson,center,  chief of staff to the secretary at the DOTD, answers questions from a large crowd of concerned citizens during a meeting about the I-49 corridor plans Thursday Dec. 3, 2015 at the main public library in Lafayette, La.

Finding solutions for daily traffic tie-ups on Interstate 10 near the I-10 Mississippi River bridge will be one of the top priorities when Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards takes office next week, incoming transportation chief Shawn Wilson said Monday. “You have to do something on the I-10 corridor,” Wilson told the Press Club of Baton Rouge. “That corridor… Continue reading →

Political blogger with 'guts to say what others wouldn't say' C.B. Forgotston dead at age 70

C.B. Forgotston knew more about Louisiana government and politics than just about anyone, after years of working as a state legislative staffer and business lobbyist. Over the past generation, Forgotston used that knowledge to act as a citizen watchdog on state government — by serving as a source for reporters and political insiders.… Continue reading →

Louisiana lawmakers and the incoming Edwards administration need to control Medicaid

One of Don Gregory’s first calls after taking over the Medicaid program in Louisiana was from a woman worried about the health effects of having three X-rays in a week. But for Gregory, who oversaw government health care for the poor until his retirement in 2012, the call epitomized the problems with a program that is… Continue reading →

Jay Dardenne: Louisiana budget messier than previously thought; tax increases on table

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Incoming Commissioner of the Division of Administration Jay Dardenne discusses the current budget crisis in Louisiana during a press conference Wednesday.

The budget architect for incoming Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards said Wednesday the state’s financial problems are far worse than previously thought and will require several coordinated measures to correct — possibly including tax increases. Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, in his first news conference as commissioner of administration-designee, acknowledged “we’re going to look” at raising… Continue reading →

Why the 'T' word might be solution to solving Louisiana's massive $1.8 billion deficit

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Gov.-Elect John Bel Edwards, right, answers a question as he and Gov. Bobby Jindal, left, hosted a joint press conference at the Governor's Mansion after meeting to talk about the transition.

Nobody wants to say the T-word aloud, but the good-government groups reviewing the state’s dire budget situation say the incoming administration will be hard pressed to bridge the projected $1.8 billion deficit without raising taxes. Plenty of ideas are out there, and Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards’ aides may give a hint at a news conference Wednesday… Continue reading →

Past ethics board opinion advised Buddy Amoroso to choose between Metro Council, property management job

Metro Councilman Buddy Amoroso has been sitting on the Metro Council for three years despite a 2002 opinion from the Board of Ethics that told him it was problematic to be a councilman while running his company Prime Properties. The Ethics Board concluded back then that the relationship between Amoroso’s property management firm and the East Baton Rouge Parish… Continue reading →

Legislative Auditor claims economic development district overpaid Algiers district by millions

The state Department of Revenue incorrectly applied a formula and as a result overpaid the Algiers Economic Development District by $6.9 million since 2004, according to a report released Monday by Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera. Auditors recommended that the Department of Revenue work to establish a repayment plan before turning over any more of… Continue reading →

New DOTD chief Shawn Wilson boasts experience, ready to take on job stacked with about $12 billion road, bridge project backlog

Advocate photo by BRAD KEMP -- Shawn Wilson, center, chief of staff to the secretary at the DOTD, answers questions from a large crowd of concerned citizens during a meeting about the I-49 corridor plans Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015, at the main public library in Lafayette.

Shawn Wilson has spent the past decade serving as the right-hand man for three secretaries at the state Department of Transportation and Development. Now, he is about to become the leader. “I learned a lot from each of them, and I plan to incorporate some of those lessons in my leadership style,” he said. Wilson, 46,… Continue reading →

Auditor: Louisiana state health agency management issues cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars

Daryl Purpera

In the most sweeping examination of the state’s largest government agency in nearly two decades, the Louisiana legislative auditor sharply criticized the management of the state Department of Health and Hospitals. Auditor Daryl G. Purpera ticked off 14 points where DHH failed to follow legally required processes, costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, according to… Continue reading →