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State revenues continue to decline

Advocate staff file photo by BILL FEIG -- Aerial of the new State Capitol building and grounds.

For the second time since November, the Jindal administration is going to have find another hundred million dollars or so to balance this year’s state government budget. Both the economists, for the legislature and for the administration, are reporting to the Revenue Estimating Conference Monday afternoon they expect collections of severance taxes to drop $64.2 million to… Continue reading →

Here's the first key hurdle in the quest to build a Baton Rouge inner loop

The first step in whether an $800 million “inner loop” around Baton Rouge is doable is an economic feasibility study expected to be done by October. The plan, which was submitted by an international engineering firm called AECOM, faces huge financial, technical and political hurdles. But for now, it is in the hands of… Continue reading →

Lawmakers looking for ways to balance the budget

The Louisiana State Capitol building in Baton Rouge.

Louisiana legislators are throwing out all sorts of ideas to see what sticks in hopes of short-circuiting possible layoffs and deep budget cuts. State government will bring in about $1.4 billion less next fiscal year than is needed to pay for the current level of services. Come Monday, that hole could get much larger. To bring… Continue reading →

Battle over Louisiana pension funds shaping up

More than $300 million is sitting in state employee and teachers pension system accounts reserved for future cost- of-living raises for retirees. A state senator wants the 90,000-plus retirees to get an immediate boost in their pension checks. But some of the Louisiana Legislature’s budget committee members are eyeing the dollars to help close a $1.4… Continue reading →

Source: In Rita Benson LeBlanc vs. Gayle Benson, 'This is truly sad ... people are going to be hurt'

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--Layne Murdoch Jr. photographs New Orleans Pelicans GM Dell Demps, New Orleans Pelicans head coach Monty Williams, Vice Chairman of the Board of the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans Rita Benson LeBlanc, Dennis Lauscha, president of Saints and Pelicans, Saints GM Mickey Loomis, and New Orleans Pelicans and Saints owner Tom Benson and his wife Gayle Benson at Pelicans Media Day in Metairie, La. Monday, Sept. 29, 2014.

You’ve seen them in numerous pictures and perhaps in person, although much less frequently of late. Tom Benson, Louisiana’s richest man and owner of the state’s two major professional sports franchises, flanked by his wife, Gayle, and his granddaughter, Rita LeBlanc. But rarely just the two women, rarely side by side without Benson between them… Continue reading →

$700M cut looms for health agency

Louisiana’s health department is preparing for what could be up to $700 million in budget reductions under a directive from Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. Officials in the state Department of Health and Hospitals have been told to save $200 million to $250 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1. That translates to a $600 million… Continue reading →

Thibodaux school principal, daughter fined for nepotism violations

The director and principal of a Thibodaux charter school and her daughter have agreed to pay $7,500 in fines for violation of the state’s nepotism laws. The Louisiana Board of Ethics assessed a $5,000 civil fine on Linda Musson, the head of the Max Charter School, and a $2,500 fine on her daughter Dana Guidry, whom Musson… Continue reading →

In Toon with Walt contest: Fill up our inbox with your funny captions

See if you can come up with the funniest punch line to our latest 'toon challenge. Deadline is Jan. 22. Continue reading →

'Why do evaluations if everyone is going to come out with flying colors?' Louisiana's state employee performance reviews raise questions

After years of often bitter debate, a recently released tally of job performance evaluations under the state’s new system found that nearly every Louisiana civil servant rated high enough to receive a pay raise — a result that left many wondering what the point of making the change was. Ninety-six percent… Continue reading →

Louisiana State Police get at least some of their pay raise

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- Louisiana State Police Col. Michael Edmonson is appearing before the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget Friday morning to argue for raising trooper pay.

Legislators gave Louisiana State Police a hefty 20 percent pay raise Friday as other state employees could face layoffs and furloughs because of an escalating state government financial crisis. The Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget voted overwhelmingly to give about 1,000 troopers the annual salary bump, which will start in early February. The pay increase… Continue reading →

La.’s poor pay higher share in taxes, study shows

Share of taxes -- Advocate graphic

Louisiana’s poor and middle class spend more of their money on state and local taxes than wealthier families, according to a national study that breaks down the tax burden in each of the 50 states by income brackets. “The good news is we’re not the worst; we’re the 19th-worst,” said Jan Moller, director of the… Continue reading →

Firm interested in building Baton Rouge ‘inner loop’ toll road to ease traffic

An international engineering firm has submitted a preliminary proposal to the state to build an “inner loop” toll road around Baton Rouge, officials said Thursday morning. The plan, which faces a lengthy review process and daunting hurdles, is called the Baton Rouge Urban Renewal and Mobility Plan, or BUMP. It is supposed to connect interstates 10,… Continue reading →

Bond Commission approves borrowing for New Orleans airport makeover

Advocate staff file photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- A flight traveling from Houston to Miami was diverted to Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans on Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014, after a bomb threat.

After about 40 years of talking about how best to update New Orleans’ airport, the State Bond Commission on Thursday approved $650 million in borrowing to get started. The money will be used to build a 650,000-square-foot, three-story terminal north (closer to Interstate 10) of the current facilities at Louis Armstrong International Airport.… Continue reading →

Politics blog: State senators meet on budget crisis

Senator John A. Alario, Jr.

Louisiana Senate President John Alario called some senators to the State Capitol on Wednesday to meet on the mushrooming state budget crisis. Budget balancing will be the primary focus of the 2015 session of the Legislature, which begins April 13. The meeting came as the Jindal administration is requiring agencies throughout state government to cut back as… Continue reading →

Official: The longer gas prices remain low, the worse it’ll be for Louisiana

Advocate staff photo by BRAD BOWIE -- Gifford Briggs, Vice President of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, speaks during a State of the Industry session at the Petroleum Club in Lafayette on Wednesday. Five more of the LOGA forums will be held in the next seven weeks.

A top executive with the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association told industry officials in Lafayette on Wednesday that no one knows when the price of oil will rise from its current mid-$40 a barrel range, or even if the internationally traded commodity has bottomed out yet. What is certain, LOGA Vice President Gifford Briggs said, is… Continue reading →

Task force floats road financing ideas

Leg H-60 Karen St. Germain

A special task force Monday sent a laundry list of ideas for addressing Louisiana’s staggering $12 billion backlog of road and bridge work to the Legislature’s transportation committees for consideration. But after months of work, the panel made no recommendations on which specific path or paths to pursue in the 2015 Legislature, which… Continue reading →

Louisiana State Police in line for 30 percent pay raise; Friday a key date for proposal

Advocate staff file photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- Louisiana State Police Colonel Michael Edmonson, right, speaks to his officers during a press conference at the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel in the French Quarter in September.  State Police will seek a 30 percent pay raise for many of its troopers.

Even as state agencies are cutting budgets, Louisiana State Police seeks a 30 percent pay raise for many of its troopers. “I know it’s not the best time, but when is the right time?” State Police Superintendent Michael Edmonson asked. The hike would bring State Police in line with what other law enforcement officers are paid and… Continue reading →

Politics blog: Bobby Jindal to address Catholic business leaders later this month

Associated Press file photo -- Gov. Bobby Jindal

Gov. Bobby Jindal will be a featured speaker Jan. 29-31 in Naples, Fla., for a national meeting of the Catholic business group Legatus. Other speakers include Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York; actor Gary Sinise, best known for his work in the movie Forrest Gump and the CSI: NY TV show; and Fox News Anchor Bret Baier.… Continue reading →

Facing financial crisis, election-year politics, 21 Louisiana legislators facing last, maybe most difficult legislative session of their tenures

The Louisiana State Capitol building in Baton Rouge.

With Louisiana in a state of financial crisis and election-year politics hanging heavy overhead, 21 term-limited legislators are approaching the last and perhaps the most difficult legislative session of their tenures. It’s the last session that 14 state representatives and seven senators can serve in their respective chambers, for each has hit a constitutional three-term limit.… Continue reading →

Oil prices could lead to future cuts to colleges and universities

Advocate staff file photo by BILL FEIG -- Aerial view of LSU campus in Baton Rouge, La.

Continuing low oil prices, while a boon for drivers, mean state government again must readjust its finances in the middle of the fiscal year; and they mean probable cuts — up to about $300 million — in state funding for colleges and universities next year. Kristy Nichols, the governor’s budget architect, said Thursday that the exact numbers… Continue reading →

Candidates line up for Louisiana House race

A fourth candidate jumped into the race for the vacant Louisiana House District 66 seat during Thursday candidate sign-up. Former Metro Councilman Darrell Ourso joined Metro Councilman Buddy Amoroso, lawyer and financial consultant Richard “Rick” Bond and lawyer and public policy consultant Susan Nelson. Amoroso, Bond and Ourso are Republicans. Nelson is no party.… Continue reading →

Nearly every Louisiana Civil Service employee qualifies for raise in Year 1 of Gov. Bobby Jindal's new employee job rating system

The Louisiana State Capitol building in Baton Rouge.

Almost everyone in Louisiana’s civil service workforce received job performance ratings high enough to make them eligible for a 4 percent pay raise, according to a newly released report. Ninety-six percent of the 37,736 classified civil servants evaluated were rated “exceptional” or “successful” — the ratings needed to be eligible for pay raises. Just 388… Continue reading →

State Senate leader says road preservation should be immediate goal

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- State Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton,is shown in this May 2013 Advocate file photo.

After months of study, a special highway panel should focus on short-term fixes in 2015 rather than any push to trim Louisiana’s $12 billion backlog of road and bridge needs, a Senate leader said. “I think short term is what you have to look at,” said Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Robert Adley, R-Benton. “Dealing with the rest… Continue reading →

Intense payday loan battles of 2014 are not likely in 2015 Legislature

Don’t look for a repeat of last year’s high-profile payday lending fight in the 2015 legislative session. Hundreds of church leaders and community activists filled the halls during the 2014 legislative session and rallied on the State Capitol steps in hopes of reining in the practices of an industry that locates mostly in low-income neighborhoods and… Continue reading →

Fewer closures, problems on Mississippi River Bridge

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- A four-vehicle wreck closed the left and center lanes of I-10 W at the top of the new bridge at the beginning of rush hour, Monday, Sept. 15. Traffic congestion from the wreck reached Seigen Lane soon after 5 p.m.

Lane closures and other problems on and near the Interstate 10 Mississippi River bridge in Baton Rouge have dropped 16 percent in the past four months, state officials said. The drop followed a rash of problems earlier this year, including a more than 50 percent increase in lane incidents sparking slowdowns in July. “They… Continue reading →

During public hearing, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal blamed for increasing insurance costs; some call it a 'fiasco'

Associated Press file photoGov. Bobby Jindal gestures as he delivers a speech Nov. 3 for Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

Gov. Bobby Jindal got the blame Monday for higher premiums and out-of-pocket expenses coming for nearly 230,000 state employees, teachers, retirees and their dependents enrolled in state Group Benefits. Speakers during a public hearing on the insurance program benefit changes claimed mismanagement emanating from Jindal’s office led to what several deemed a “fiasco.” The hearing… Continue reading →

Audit: Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development's failures might jeopardize future federal aid

The state Department of Transportation and Development failed to win federal approval for change orders on more than $1 million in projects, which could endanger future federal aid, Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said Monday. “This is the fifth consecutive year we have reported weaknesses in DOTD’s controls over change order approvals,” Purpera said in an audit.… Continue reading →

A new political party might be formed in Lousiana in 2015 -- the independent party

A new political party could be on the horizon for Louisiana. With the dawn of 2015, there no longer will be a legal ban on establishment of the independent party. There’s enough self-identified “independents” on Louisiana voter rolls to meet registration requirements for party status. Now all that’s left is for someone to step forward to… Continue reading →

A look inside the unlikely partnership between U.S. Sen. David Vitter and some Democratic counterparts

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Sen. David Vitter speaks at the weekly Baton Rouge Press Club luncheon Monday concerning policies he's working on in the U.S. Senate and his candidacy for Governor.

The connection was forged a couple of years ago, said U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown , in a hearing of the House Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee on the regulation of big Wall Street banks and other financial institutions. At the other end of the committee’s semicircular dais, where the… Continue reading →

Activist, longtime state Rep. Alphonse Jackson dies at 87

Longtime state Rep. Alphonse Jackson Jr., a civil rights activist and charter member of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, died Tuesday at the age of 87. Jackson, a Democrat and World War II veteran who held degrees from Southern University and New York University, was first elected to the state Legislature in 1972 and served… Continue reading →

Former state Rep. Alphonse Jackson dies

Longtime state Rep. Alphonse Jackson Jr., a civil rights activist and charter member of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, died Tuesday at the age of 87. Jackson, a Democrat and World War II veteran who held degrees from Southern University and New York University, was first elected to the state Legislature in 1972 and served through 1992.… Continue reading →

In Toon with Walt contest: What a year it’s been!

See if you can come up with the funniest punch line to this New Year’s 'toon challenge. Deadline is Dec. 29. Continue reading →

New lanes planned near La. 30 and I-10

Two short-term projects are planned to ease traffic problems near Gonzales, Sherri LeBas, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, announced. Both are expected to go to bid in two years. LeBas said in a prepared statement that an eastbound left-turn lane from La. 30 to Veterans Boulevard will be added. In addition,… Continue reading →

U.S. Sen. David Vitter to President Obama: I ask that you host a screening of 'The Interview' for all of Congress in the White House next month

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., wants to see “The Interview” -- at the White House, with 534 of his closest friends. Vitter wrote President Barack Obama on Friday to request a screening for members of Congress of the satiric film about North Korea. The movie mocks North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Sony Pictures… Continue reading →

Nearly $1 billion in Katrina, Rita aid under scrutiny

Advocate staff photo by Richard Alan Hannon -- Homeowners in St. Tammany Parish rebuild in the months after Hurricane Katrina.

More than nine years after hurricanes Katrina and Rita decimated parts of Louisiana, the state has identified nearly $1 billion in federal housing aid where recipients failed to comply with the rules, Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said Monday. Purpera said the problems were discovered by the state Division of Administration. They totaled $939 million and… Continue reading →

Agency puts hold on La. Medicaid pharmacy payments

The federal health agency has rejected Louisiana’s latest plans for Medicaid reimbursement of pharmacists for prescription drugs. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently notified Louisiana officials of its objection to the payment methodology. On Thursday, Louisiana Medicaid Director Ruth Kennedy received notice that the federal agency is deferring payment of… Continue reading →

Legislators OK mid-year budget cut plans

 Jim Fannin

Louisiana legislators made some minor changes Thursday but otherwise approved the Jindal administration’s plan to fill an unexpected hole in revenue collections and rebalance this year’s $25 billion state budget. About 160 vacant jobs were eliminated outright, and others won’t be filled for the remainder of the budget year, which ends on June 30. Nobody will be… Continue reading →

Legislative panel weighs housing protections for domestic violence victims

Advocate staff file photo by BILL FEIG -- Aerial of the new State Capitol building and grounds.

Some Louisiana lawmakers are hoping that efforts to protect victims of domestic violence from eviction could become a key issue in the next legislative session. The Louisiana House Civil Law Committee and the Senate Judiciary A Committee held a joint meeting at the State Capitol on Thursday to discuss the issue. A bill proposed this… Continue reading →