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'It’s breathtaking': Treasurer John Kennedy assails largest state budget since Hurricane Katrina

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- State Treasurer John N. Kennedy said Monday the Louisiana Legislature last week approved the largest state spending plan since the hurricanes recovery.

Louisiana legislators last week passed the largest state budget since hurricanes Katrina and Rita a decade ago, State Treasurer John N. Kennedy said Monday. The $26 billion total budget for the fiscal year that starts Friday is about $3 billion more than the spending for this fiscal year, Kennedy told the Press Club of Baton Rouge luncheon.… Continue reading →

Cleco customers to receive credit of about $475 off their July electricity bills

Many of Cleco’s customers will receive a free month of electricity in July, possibly August too, as the utility makes good on a promise made earlier this year in return for permission to sell itself to a group of private investors, the company announced Monday. Beginning Friday, Cleco will apply the credit — about $475 for most… Continue reading →

What now? Louisiana legislators ‘kick the can’ on budget, taxes to next year

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS-Gov. John Bel Edwards addresses the media during a press conference after the end of the second special legislative session Thursday.

Gov. John Bel Edwards opened the second special legislative session of 2016 three weeks ago by warning lawmakers they needed to raise $600 million more in taxes and enact meaningful tax reform. “The days of kicking the can down the road are over,” Edwards told the 144 lawmakers gathered in the Louisiana House. “The day of… Continue reading →

Gov. John Bel Edwards sets criteria for lucrative tax breaks for manufacturers

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD  Edgar Cage of Together Louisiana addresses Friday supporters of changes to approval processes for Industrial Tax Exemptions outside a crowded meeting of the state Board of Commerce and Industry.

After four decades of automatically approving applications to exempt large manufacturers from local property taxes, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Friday he would start closely vetting industrial tax exemption requests before signing them. The governor said the tax exemptions are not closely monitored, require no performance standards and have been given out willy-nilly for decades.… Continue reading →

Big question for Gov. John Bel Edwards: Will he veto TOPS language that funds scholarships in fall, slashes in spring?

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- Gov. John Bel Edwards told reporters Friday that he hopes the Richardson report encourages legislators to raise more revenue. He has been asking lawmakers to close during the special legislative session is actually $800 million.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards wouldn’t say early Friday morning whether he plans to veto language inserted into a supplemental budget bill that would effectively fund the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students scholarships fully for the fall semester and less than half for the spring semester. The so-called “front-loading” language was added in the final hours of… Continue reading →

Possible big cut coming for TOPS in spring as Louisiana budget deal reached, special legislative session ends

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS --Gov. John Bel Edwards, left, shakes hands with Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, right, after the Senate passed the $263 Million spending bill, HB-69, on the last day of the second special second legislative session.

Update, 1:08 a.m. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards got less than half the $600 million he sought for schools, hospitals, the TOPS scholarships and other programs during the 18-day special legislative session that ended just before midnight Thursday. A final effort to raise $88 million more by ending an individual income tax break sank Thursday… Continue reading →

Final day: Gov. John Bel Edwards making last-ditch effort to raise taxes for TOPS, schools

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Before the Senate convened for the afternoon, Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, second from left, discusses pending legislation with, from left, Sen. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, Peterson, Sen. Gerald Boudreaux, D-Lafayette, Sen. Greg Tarver, D-Shreveport, and Sen. J. P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, Wednesday afternoon June 22, 2016.

After meeting for 19 consecutive weeks — the longest stretch in its 204-year history — the Louisiana Legislature will convene one last time on Thursday as legislative allies of Gov. John Bel Edwards take a final stab at raising taxes to pay for schools, college scholarships and treating the sick. The key vote will take… Continue reading →

Senate Finance panel advances budget as clock winds down on special session

The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday advanced a supplemental spending plan that would put more money toward higher education and prisons, largely at the expense of funding for local school districts. Lawmakers have a day left to hash out a final budget for the coming year, after spending nearly 19 consecutive weeks trying to solve the financial… Continue reading →

Crackdown on cyber-crime against children nets results, but budget cuts could hurt effort

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry at at a press conference Tuesday to announce Operation Broken Heart, the states Internet Crimes Against Children task force, so far in 2016, has arrested 57 alleged perpetrators for distribution and possession of sexual abuse images or videos of children.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry warned Tuesday that cuts being considered by the Legislature for his Department of Justice could negatively impact the office’s pursuit and coordination of law enforcement efforts to crack down on internet crimes against children. “We’re going to try to minimize the impact that it has on these units and our personnel. Right… Continue reading →

'Last chance': Louisiana Senate plans one more push to help fill budget gap

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS --Senate President, John Alario, R-Westwego, left, and House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, right,  meet on the Senate floor during during the second special legislative session Tuesday.

State Senate President John Alario said Tuesday that he will make a last-ditch effort on Wednesday to raise $88 million more to help fill the budget gap identified by Gov. John Bel Edwards. Alario, R-Westwego, told several reporters that he hopes to revive an individual income tax measure defeated by the House on Sunday by attaching it… Continue reading →

Vice episode featuring Gov. John Bel Edwards, LSU’s F. King Alexander to air on HBO Friday

An episode of HBO’s “Vice” that features Gov. John Bel Edwards and LSU President F. King Alexander is slated to air at 10 p.m. Friday. Edwards, who took office Jan. 11, filmed an interview with the documentary series in April, with his spokesman noting that it was expected to focus on higher education affordability.… Continue reading →

Louisiana House approves budget plan that funds TOPS at 70 percent as clock winds down on special session

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS --Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, answers questions about his supplemental spending bill HB 69 Monday in the House Chamber during the last week of the second special legislative session,.

The Louisiana House has agreed to add about $284 million back into the budget that begins July 1 thanks to money that’s expected to be raised from new tax legislation that lawmakers have approved in recent weeks. The plan now heads to the Senate for vetting as the clock winds down on the second special session, in… Continue reading →

Update: Louisiana House agrees to raise another $70M for next year; Bill to spend new tax revenue advancing

Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, left, speaks with Rep. Major Thibaut, D-New Roads, ahead of a House Ways and Means Committee debate on Ward's tax bill, on Monday, June 20, 2016, in Baton Rouge, La.The full House is expected to debate the budget proposal Monday afternoon. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte)

Update, 2 p.m.: Just when it looked like the House was resistant to passing any more tax changes, lawmakers there agreed to two bills tweaking property tax breaks given to businesses. The two bills won quick passage Monday afternoon. They would raise an estimated $70 million for next year’s budget. Both go back to the Senate… Continue reading →

Study finds $1.6 billion in Louisiana industrial tax breaks too generous

Provided photo  --   Don Pierson

Louisiana is giving away an average of $1.6 billion annually in tax breaks to large manufacturers with little oversight and little return, according to a new study released Monday. Together Louisiana, a statewide association of clergy and public interest groups that favors higher taxes on big corporations and the wealthy, reports Louisiana has… Continue reading →

'A little bit of stability': Louisiana House approves sales tax fix opposed by business community

On a close vote, the Louisiana House advanced Sunday night contentious legislation aimed at addressing a recent court ruling on an obscure sales tax issue that exposes local governments to tens of millions of dollars in lost revenues and millions more in refunds. Representatives voted 55-46, two more than the minimum needed to pass, approving… Continue reading →

Louisiana House rejects one of last tax bills to cover deep budget cuts; here's what happens next

Advocate staff photo by Bill Feig -- Members of the Louisiana House wait on budgetary legislation for consideration on Tuesday, March 8.

The Louisiana House amended, then rejected late Sunday, one of the last viable tax measures in the special legislative session that was called to raise money enough to cover deep cuts proposed for the state’s operating budget. House Bill 38, as amended, would have modestly changed Louisiana taxpayers’ ability to deduct on… Continue reading →

Number of Louisiana households receiving food stamps at its highest ever — and poised to increase

Photo provided by dcfs.la.gov -- Louisiana Puschase Automated Benefit Card

While the rest of the nation has fewer families on food stamps, Louisiana has more households on the rolls than ever before, and that number is poised to increase further. Some of the increases have been dramatic: about 37 percent more cases in Jefferson Parish; 26 percent more in St. Martin; 13.5 percent more in Lafayette; and… Continue reading →

Louisiana’s $600 million budget shortfall looks to be more like $800 million, economist says

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- Gov. John Bel Edwards told reporters Friday that he hopes the Richardson report encourages legislators to raise more revenue. He has been asking lawmakers to close during the special legislative session is actually $800 million.

Louisiana’s financial situation continues to deteriorate, with a top economist projecting the state will end the fiscal year on June 30 with a $200 million deficit because of lower-than-expected corporate tax collections. The analysis by LSU economist Jim Richardson appears to mean the $600 million shortfall that Gov. John Bel Edwards has been asking lawmakers to close… Continue reading →

'Sense of urgency ought to be increasing every day' for lawmakers, Gov. John Bel Edwards says of current special session

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- The Louisiana Legislature has been in session since Valentine's Day, but it could be finally coming to a close in one more week. I cant envision right now a third special session to address what we know today, Gov. John Bel Edwards told reporters during a news conference on Friday.

The Louisiana Legislature has been in session for the past 18 weeks, but it finally could be coming to a close in one more week. “I can’t envision right now a third special session to address what we know today,” Gov. John Bel Edwards told reporters during a news conference on Friday. The state Legislature Continue reading →

Stalemate between House and Senate over budget bill breaks

Louisiana House and Senate leaders reached a deal Thursday for handling the budget bill that will spend the tax dollars raised during the special legislative session, ending a logjam that had created tension between the two sides. Lawmakers in the House agreed to stop stalling the measure and intend to schedule it for a Monday hearing.… Continue reading →

Louisiana takes 'crucial' step to save coast and oyster industry

Associated Press file photoMounds of crumbled concrete and shucked oyster shells intended to be submerged to help rebuild oyster reefs sit along the roadside in Hopedale.

Louisiana is taking a step it hopes will save both its coast and its oyster industry: It’s renewing an oyster leasing program. The Louisiana Legislature recently passed two bills that lift a 14-year-old moratorium on new leases for oyster farmers. Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to sign the bills soon. Lifting the moratorium will help… Continue reading →

Pay raises suspended for Louisiana’s state workers next year

Tens of thousands of Louisiana state workers won’t be getting pay raises next year. At the urging of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, the Civil Service Commission voted 4-1 Thursday to block annual “performance adjustments” for more than 38,000 government workers, called classified employees. The pay raise suspension covers the budget year that begins July 1.… Continue reading →

Louisiana House balking at tax exemption rollback for wealthier taxpayers

Since the Louisiana Legislature first took up tax bills in February, the state House has been more averse than the Senate to raising more revenue, and that pattern was on display again Thursday, one week before the special legislative session ends. The more conservative House did not take up a major tax bill supported by Gov. John… Continue reading →

Louisiana corporate tax collections are down, exemptions blamed

After a down month in May, cumulative state corporate tax collections were only $50 million so far with one month left in the fiscal year, the latest figures show. The state was supposed to collect $359 million in corporate income and franchise taxes for the fiscal year that ends on July 1. “We’re $300 million short,”… Continue reading →

Louisiana House member taken to hospital after suffering chest pains

State Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley, an ally of Gov. John Bel Edwards, was taken to Baton Rouge General Wednesday afternoon after complaining of chest pains.

Officials said the visit was precautionary and that Montoucet was doing well and had not been admitted.

The Legislature is in a special session until June 23 grappling with a $600 million shortfall… Continue reading →

Edwards signs cursive writing mandate for schools into law

Gov. John Bel Edwards has agreed to a mandate that cursive writing must be taught in Louisiana’s public school classrooms. The governor’s office announced Tuesday that Edwards had signed the requirement bill by Republican Sen. Beth Mizell, of Franklinton, into law. The measure requires public schools, including charter schools, to introduce cursive writing instruction… Continue reading →

Gov. John Bel Edwards signs ‘raise the age,’ Real ID bills into law

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- Gov. John Bel Edwards signs the "Raise the Age" bill Tuesday at a ceremony in the Governor's Mansion.

With the stroke of a pen at a Governor’s Mansion ceremony Tuesday, 17-year-olds accused of crimes will now be prosecuted as juveniles instead of through the harsher adult criminal justice system. “Until today, Louisiana was one of only nine states that excluded all 17 year olds from the juvenile justice system,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said. Prior… Continue reading →

Another day, another report bashes Louisiana's roads, bridges, drivers

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Drivers sit in traffic on I10 east approaching the Highland Road exit during rush hour, Thursday, January 28, 2016, in Baton Rouge, La.

Driving conditions in Louisiana got panned Tuesday in a national survey — again. The state has the third worst driving environment when road and bridge conditions, traffic fatalities, car insurance and other factors are calculated, according to a report by Carinsurance.com Only Oklahoma at No. 49 and California at No. 50 finished behind Louisiana.… Continue reading →

Fixes for Girl Scouts, other exemptions held hostage as Louisiana legislators angle on taxes; Gov. John Bel Edwards' tax bill to get another shot?

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- Leaders of various factions in the Louisiana House huddle Monday evening negotiating how to bring up a key tax bill that deals with the ability to use itemized federal tax deductions to reduce what taxpayers owe on their state returns.

The state Senate leadership decided Monday not to restore a tax break for the sale of Girls Scout cookies or for tickets to high school football games — until the Louisiana House raises more money. The Senate is stalling legislation favored by all lawmakers in an attempt to pressure the House after the House last… Continue reading →

DOTD secretary: Here's why latest Louisiana road, bridge study will be much different than others

The co-chairman of a task force that is supposed to come up with solutions for Louisiana’s road and bridge problems said Monday this one is different from previous studies. “I think first and foremost, this study is being driven by the governor,” said Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development and… Continue reading →

Senate stalls sales tax ‘cleanup’ bills

Senators said Monday they will stall efforts to clean up sales taxes unintentionally charged on items like school lunches and Girl Scout cookies, until lawmakers in the House agree to more taxes for next year’s budget than they’ve supported so far. Sales tax increases passed in the chaotic final moments of a special session earlier this year… Continue reading →

John Bel Edwards, legislative leaders observe ‘moment of unity’ in memory of Orlando victims

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- State officials participate in a "Moment of Unity" memorial ceremony Monday afternoon June 13, 2016, for the Orlando shooting victims in Memorial Hall at the State Capital building after last week's deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks at the lectern. Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, second from left, and Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, left, and other legislators and state officials were in attendance.

About 100 people, including Louisiana leaders, gathered at the State Capitol on Monday to pray for the victims of the deadly terrorist attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, over the weekend. At least 50 people were killed and another 53 injured during the attack at Pulse nightclub early Sunday morning — the nation’s… Continue reading →

New report ranks Baton Rouge 2nd most dangerous U.S. city for drivers

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Baton Rouge Police, EMS and fire department officials work the scene of a crash involving a sedan and SUV at the intersection of North Boulevard and St. Joseph Street, Tuesday, May 24, 2016, in Baton Rouge, La. According to a police spokesperson, the driver of the sedan was driving eastbound on North Boulevard when the driver of the SUV disregarded the stop sign on northbound St. Joseph Street, causing the crash. Police issued the driver of the SUV a citation in the crash.

In a study that surfaced Monday, Baton Rouge ranks as the second most dangerous city in the nation for drivers. Louisiana’s capital ranks behind only Detroit in a study of the 200 most populous cities done by NerdWallet, a financial education center. The group looked at five metrics: the rate of fatal crashes; the likelihood of… Continue reading →

‘The person I trust least’: State Rep. Neil Abramson’s controversial tactics win him few fans among legislators

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, left, speaks in favor of his amendment 800 to HB22, the stadium sales tax bill, as Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, right, listens on the next to last day of special session. The amendment was adopted and the bill passed 89-8.

Perhaps no bill matters to state lawmakers more than the measure that authorizes hundreds of millions of state dollars annually to build roads, repair buildings and construct sewer systems back home. So lawmakers were understandably antsy Monday afternoon, hours before the regular session would end, when they couldn’t find the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Neil Abramson, for… Continue reading →

Edwards announces transportation task force, names Louisiana DOTD chief Shawn Wilson as co-chair

Photo by Brad Kemp, The Advocate

Gov. John Bel Edwards issued an executive order Friday setting up a task force to study state transportation problems and make recommendations by Jan. 1. State Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson will be one of the co-chairs of the panel, which will have up to 18 members. Edwards will name the other co-chair.… Continue reading →

Edwards urges lawmakers to consider more revenue bills or Louisiana's fiscal problems will remain unsolved

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration said the tax-raising measures moving through the Capitol aren’t enough to solve the state’s fiscal problems and lawmakers should embrace more revenue bills to stave off deep cuts to state services. “It doesn’t adequately fund TOPS, it doesn’t adequately fund our hospitals, it doesn’t adequately fund higher education,” Commissioner of Administration Jay… Continue reading →

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards approves separated courtroom seating for crime victims, others

Crime victims, crime witnesses or their family members will soon have the choice to sit separate from defendants, defendants’ family members or defense witnesses in Louisiana courtrooms. The governor’s office said Wednesday that Gov. John Bel Edwards had signed the bill from Sen. J.P. Morell, a New Orleans Democrat, to allow the seating division. The new… Continue reading →