Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Fri, November 30, 2012

B.R. economic growth ranked No. 207 globally

With 0.4% growth in its gross domestic product between 2011 and 2012, and an 0.8% increase in employment, Baton Rouge's economic performance is ranked 207th among the world's largest 300 metropolitan economies. That's according to the "Global MetroMonitor," a comprehensive report released today by the Brookings Institution. "Baton Rouge has partially recovered from a major recession," the report says, noting it is "lagging the United States" in both employment and GDP per capita improvements since the recession took hold. Baton Rouge is also ranked No. 153 in the report for its economic performance during the recession, between 2007 and 2011, when GDP decreased 3.6% and employment shrank 1.7%. For its economic performance between 1993 and 2007, Baton Rouge is ranked No. 144 (GDP increased 2.8% during that span, while employment expanded by 1.7%). The "Global MetroMonitor" lumps 60 cities into each of five different ranking categories based on economic performance: strongest, second-strongest, middle, second-weakest and weakest. Baton Rouge is included in the second-weakest category for its economic growth between 2011 and 2012. New Orleans, the only other Louisiana metro listed on the report, is ranked No. 274 for its performance between 2011 and 2012 (GDP decreased 1.2% and employment shrank 0.2%) and is included in the weakest category. The Chinese metro area of Macau is ranked No. 1 in the report. Athens, Greece, is ranked No. 300. The Brookings Institution has created an interactive map with all of the data from the report. Check it out here.

LaPolitics by Maginnis: Is Letten's time up?

A federal judge's stinging criticism and the ongoing investigation of the office run by U.S. Attorney Jim Letten seems to many to remove any doubt that the president will replace him soon in the Eastern District. Names, including some Democratic New Orleans officeholders and attorneys, already are being floated to replace the man known statewide as the most effective corruption fighter of this political era. Letten, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, was reappointed by President Barack Obama only because of strong backing by Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu and his bipartisan popularity statewide. Now, even his longtime staunch supporter GOP Sen. David Vitter has said he is "troubled" by Letten's handling of the controversy surrounding his former top assistants. One resigned and another was demoted after they admitted posting anonymous online comments critical of subjects of ongoing federal cases. With Vitter and other Republicans relinquishing support of Letten, Landrieu is now expected to recommend a Democrat to be the next U.S. attorney in that district.

—As Rep. Tony Ligi, R-Metairie, is expected to resign as early as today to become legal counsel for the Jefferson Business Council, several legislators are lining up to succeed him as chairman of the Republican Caucus. Ligi says he is asking colleagues to support Rep. Nick Lorusso, R-New Orleans, calling him a "level-headed guy who can deal with the breakdowns we have within a growing delegation." Lorusso's election would also keep the caucus leadership within the New Orleans region. But there could be a race yet: Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, is attracting support as a non-New Orleans choice who has support among fellow freshmen and the more conservative fiscal hawks.

They said it: "I agree with a little bit of what you said, but damn little." —Former Gov. Buddy Roemer to MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry, in discussion about education at Tulane University, in The Times-Picayune

(John Maginnis publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, at LaPolitics.com.)

Closing arguments to be heard in school voucher lawsuit today

A three-day trial in a lawsuit challenging Gov. Bobby Jindal's voucher program as unconstitutional is wrapping up today in Baton Rouge. Judge Tim Kelley asked lawyers to give their closing arguments today. However, it's unclear if he will rule immediately after their arguments are made or request additional information in the form of post-trial legal filings. Kelley said earlier this week he expected to hand down a ruling by the end of today. Teachers unions and school boards are seeking to shut down the vouchers and other changes that would funnel more money away from traditional public schools. They say it's unconstitutional to pay for vouchers to private schools through the public school funding formula. They also claim lawmakers didn't follow the proper process. The state Department of Education and the BESE say the programs were created and are funded in line with the constitution.

Judge Kelley: Donation from state lawyer in voucher case won't affect ruling

In July, District Judge Tim Kelley rejected an injunction that sought to stop the state's new and controversial school voucher program from taking effect, saying he did not have the jurisdiction to rule because doing so would have created a budget deficit. Kelley is expected today to rule on the constitutionality of the program, after repeatedly saying during the trial this week that he doesn't think lawyers' testimony is needed in the Baton Rouge lawsuit challenging Gov. Bobby Jindal's statewide voucher program. On Thursday, Kelley told Daily Report he was unaware that an attorney for the state Department of Education in the voucher trial, Jimmy Faircloth, had donated $1,000 on Oct. 24 to his recent, failed campaign for the District 5 seat on the Louisiana Supreme Court. Faircloth, a former member of Jindal's executive counsel, is representing the state as a private attorney. "It doesn't affect how I decide things," Kelley says of his campaign contributions. "Bottom line: We're not supposed to look at those things. That's why we have campaign committees." Faircloth's contribution to Kelley's campaign came from his Alexandria law firm, The Faircloth Law Group. Both Faircloth and John White, state education superintendent, argued in July that an injunction would lead to a $3.4 billion hole in the state's education budget, stemming from the money Louisiana currently spends on state aid for school operations via the Minimum Foundation Program. —Adam Pearson

Editorial: Jindal's justifications for refusing Obamacare getting weaker

In a new editorial, The Times-Picayune says Gov. Bobby Jindal's rationale for his refusal to accept the expansion of Medicaid provided by the Affordable Care Act—or Obamacare, as some call it—is continually weakening. "He keeps arguing that the state can't afford its share of the cost for the roughly 400,000 low-income Louisianans who would qualify. But a new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation came up with a dramatically smaller number than the Jindal administration for the state's portion," reads the editorial, which notes that the Kaiser report puts the cost for Louisiana at about $1 billion over 10 years. "That is far less than the state's $3.7 billion estimate." The number of Louisianans without health care is at a "crisis level," the editorial says, citing estimates of the uninsured ranging from 675,954 in the state's latest survey to 895,800 in the Kaiser study. The newspaper also says current eligibility for Medicaid in Louisiana is very restrictive for adults, despite a high level of poverty across the state; it notes that the Kaiser report estimates an additional 398,000 residents would get coverage under the Obamacare expansion. "All of this raises the question: Why won't the governor budge? Basically, it's all about politics," the editorial says, later concluding: "The message to Louisianans is that the governor is callous to their needs. It is unthinkable that he would have the means to help them but would refuse to do so." Read the complete editorial here.

Today's poll question: Do you think Gov. Bobby Jindal's decision to refuse to implement Obamacare in Louisiana has more to do with politics or cost concerns?

'225 Dine': Delightful Palate marinades make a holiday splash

Cooking instructor Lili Courtney had always kept an ample supply of homemade marinades around to demonstrate the value of a well-constructed condiment for adding flavor to meats and vegetables. But they were so beloved by friends and family that Courtney was inspired to explore packaging them. Her Delightful Palate line of marinade-dressings was released a few months ago and has begun to appear on store shelves across the state. All three locations of Maxwell's Market carry the products. Courtney has taught leisure cooking classes in Alexandria, her hometown, for more than 20 years, most recently at the Kitchen Warehouse there. More than a year ago, she began the journey that so many passionate home chefs undertake in Louisiana: bringing a successful personal recipe to scale. She reached out to culinary incubator Edible Enterprises in Norco, which connected her with food scientist and chef Ehab "Happy" Abdelbaki. She and Chef Happy worked for several months to convert Courtney's homemade marinades into a shelf-stable, bottled formula. "We would taste and taste for hours on end to make sure everything stayed true to the original recipe," she says. Access the rest of this story, published in the new 225 Dine e-newsletter, here.

Diana Ross appearing in B.R. to mark 10th anniversary of symphony orchestra concert series

Legendary singer and actress Diana Ross will perform in Baton Rouge at the River Center Theatre on Friday, Feb. 8. The concert was announced today by the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra, which invited the former member of The Supremes to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Great Performers in Concert series. The one-night gala will serve as a benefit performance for the orchestra. "I wanted the 10th anniversary concert to be a celebration and have a world-class artist that would bring the house down! I know Diana Ross will be electrifying, and our family foundation is so honored to be a part of such a tremendous community event," says Paula Pennington de la Bretonne in a prepared statement. Tickets range from $37 to $225, and are on sale now through the Baton Rouge Symphony box office. Click here for complete details and to purchase tickets.

Make your nominations for 2013 Business Awards and Hall of Fame

Take some time today to make your nominations for the 2013 Business Awards and Hall of Fame, presented by Business Report and Junior Achievement. The awards annually honor a Business Hall of Fame Laureate for a lifetime of achievement; Company of the Year, with one award going to a business with 100 employees or more and another going to one with fewer than 100 employees; Young Businessperson of the Year, which goes to someone 40 or younger; and Businessperson of the Year. You can nominate your company, yourself, a client, vendor or friend online here. Nominations will close at 5 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 31. Winners will be profiled in a March issue of Business Report, and will be honored at a March 19 banquet held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and sponsored by Franklin and Capital One Bank.

News roundup: Sandy slowed U.S. consumer spending, pay in October … Facebook upsets some by seeking to take away users' voting rights … Obama takes 'fiscal cliff' pitch on the road as Republicans stew

Bought and sold: Americans cut back on spending last month while their income remained flat, according to a Commerce Department report out today. The weakness in part reflected disruptions from Superstorm Sandy that could slow economic growth for the rest of the year. Consumer spending dropped 0.2% in October. It was the weakest figure since May, and compares unfavorably with a 0.8% spending increase in September. Income had risen 0.4% in September. More details are available in the full story here.

About-face: Facebook Inc. is finding out just how messy democracy can be. Three years ago it was praised for giving users a voice in major policy changes. Now the giant social network is proposing to end the practice of letting users vote. And that has stirred up a new wave of controversy. Julius Harper, a digital strategist from Valencia, Calif., says he is "hugely disappointed" that Facebook wants to take away his right to vote, and he accuses Facebook of bowing to pressure from Wall Street. The Los Angeles Times has the full story here.

Taking it to the streets: President Barack Obama, reviving his re-election campaign theme of protecting the middle class, is in Pennsylvania today suggesting that Republicans could spoil Christmas by driving the country over the "fiscal cliff." The president's road trip, visiting a factory that makes Tinkertoys, is infuriating Republicans. House Speaker John Boehner called it a "victory lap" Thursday as he rejected Obama's proposals to avoid the cliff, which is a combination of tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect in January. Reuters has the full story here.

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