Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Tue, December 04, 2012

Roemer expected to be elected next BESE president

Chas Roemer is expected to be elected president of BESE at a special joint meeting Wednesday morning of both that board and the Louisiana Board of Regents, sources tell Daily Report. Roemer is currently in his second four-year term on the 11-member BESE, representing District 6, which includes most of East Baton Rouge, Ascension, Livingston, Tangipahoa and Washington parishes. Though Roemer will not comment on the expected outcome of the board election, sources confirm he is the likely successor to Penny Dastugue, who has been on BESE since 2005 and was elected president in October 2010. Roemer, the son of former Gov. Buddy Roemer, tells Daily Report that if he is elected, his top priority will be to find a way around last week's ruling declaring the state's new school voucher law unconstitutional. "It's absolutely necessary," Roemer says of the voucher program. "To force kids to sit in a failing public school is not right." Roemer says one way around the ruling, provided it is upheld on appeal, would be to fund scholarships out of the state's general fund. "The ruling had problems with the way the program is funded, not with the program per se," he says, "so we have to find a way around it." —Stephanie Riegel

Baton Rouge home prices rise in October

Single-family home prices in Baton Rouge, including distressed sales, were up 2.7% in October compared to the same month last year, according to a new report released this morning by CoreLogic. Excluding distressed sales, year-over-year home prices were up 4.4% in Baton Rouge in October. Louisiana as a whole posted even greater increases in October, with home prices up 6.5% compared to a year ago, including distressed sales. Excluding distressed sales, the state saw prices rise 7.9%. Louisiana was among 45 states posting an increase in home prices in October, according to the report. Arizona had the largest average home-price increase in the country on the month: 21.3% including distressed sales, and 16.6% excluding them. Illinois saw the greatest home depreciation in October: down 2.7% including distressed sales. Excluding sales of distressed homes, just three states saw price declines: Delaware (-2.1%), Alabama (-1.5%) and New Jersey (-0.2%). Across the United States home prices rose 6.3% in October compared with a year ago—the largest yearly gain since July 2006. Excluding distressed sales, prices rose 5.8% across the country in October. The jump adds to signs of a comeback in the once-battered housing market. The Associated Press has more details on the CoreLogic report from the national perspective here.

Roadwork at O'Neal and South Harrell's Ferry to begin final phase

The fourth and final phase of work on O'Neal Lane and South Harrell's Ferry Road will begin on Saturday, Dec. 15, city-parish officials announced this morning. Once it does, the majority of through traffic and turn-lane restrictions that have been in place on the roadways during earlier and current phases of construction will be lifted. The final phase of the project, which had been slated to begin Saturday but was delayed due to weather, is expected to be complete in three to four months. Work on the intersection at O'Neal and South Harrell's Ferry began on July 16 as part of the Southeast Area Group project in the Green Light Plan. The Southeast Area Group project, which includes three separate projects on the two roadways, commenced in September 2009 and is among the largest infrastructure projects in the history of the city-parish, officials say. You can get complete details and updates on all Green Light Plan projects online here.

Part-time jobs on the rise in Louisiana

For the better part of a decade, Mary Vincent had worked as the office manager for a small, Capital Region contracting firm. Two years ago, with work slacking off and no relief in sight, the company decided it could no longer afford her services. The 36-year-old mother of two is now working part-time in a women's clothing store. She'd prefer to work full-time, but hasn't yet found anything suitable close to home. "I keep looking," she says. "I haven't given up hope." Full-time jobs are still the norm in south Louisiana. But thanks to slow recovery from the recession and widespread uncertainty about the cost of doing business, a growing number of employers are trading them in for part-time workers. The number of underutilized workers in Louisiana—those who are unemployed or working part-time for reasons beyond their control—has grown more than six percentage points in five years, to 13.4%. In the past year alone, part-time employment in the state has risen about 1%. Overall, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 82,000 Louisiana workers are involuntarily working part-time because of slack business conditions or because they are unable to find a full-time job. Read the full story from the current issue of Business Report by Penny Font here.

Landrieu urges Jindal to change course on Obamacare

Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is publicly calling on Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal to reverse course and implement provisions of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law. In a three-page letter sent to Jindal on Monday, Landrieu says she is "ready to work" with the governor. However, she also calls on Jindal to accept the reality that with the president's re-election last month, Republican efforts to repeal the law won't succeed. "I am open to your suggestions and I hope that we can both work to find real solutions to this serious issue. But now that we know the law is here to stay, simply refusing to engage in the process is not leadership," the letter reads. Landrieu also notes the Affordable Care Act "is not perfect and that is why I remain open to making smart changes to the law to improve it, if warranted." As The Times-Picayune reports, the letter is a continuation of a spat between the Republican governor and Democratic senator that began in June when Landrieu complained Jindal wouldn't contact House GOP leaders to try and protect Medicaid funding that was being stripped from the state. The full story can be found here.

GOP 'fiscal cliff' plan echoes failed 2011 budget talks

Republicans are proposing a "fiscal cliff" plan that revives ideas from failed budget talks with President Barack Obama last year, calling for raising the eligibility age for Medicare, lowering cost-of-living hikes for Social Security benefits, and bringing in $800 billion in higher tax revenue. The counteroffer made by the GOP on Monday to a White House plan last week relies more on politically sensitive spending cuts, and would raise half of the $1.6 trillion in revenue proposed by Obama over the coming decade. The 10-year, $2.2 trillion proposal from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, resembles a framework similar to what Boehner supported last year, but Obama is pressing for additional tax increases and appears to be balking at spending cuts discussed in those talks and since. Administration officials from Obama on down say it'll take money from raising tax rates on the rich—instead of GOP proposals to simply curb their deductions—to win Obama's approval of any plan to avoid the "fiscal cliff." It has been nearly a week since Obama and Boehner talked directly about the looming cliff, though their staffs have been in contact. Boehner attended a congressional holiday party at the White House Monday night, but avoided the photo line where members get their picture taken with the president and have a few minutes to talk. Obama and Boehner will push their positions again today in separate meetings with some of the nation's governors. The Associated Press has the full story here.

Today's poll question: Should any federal plan that addresses the looming "fiscal cliff" include a tax hike on the wealthiest Americans?

News roundup: La. officials watch weather as crews move explosives from evacuated town … BP leaders seek to assure investors growth is ahead … U.S. bank earnings up 6.6%, most in 6 years

Eyes on the skies: Authorities are keeping a close eye on the weather and watching for lightning today as they work to secure 6 million pounds of explosives at a former ammunition plant in northwest Louisiana. State police say crews will suspend efforts to relocate the M6 propellant into bunkers if lightning is spotted within five miles of the site. Discovery of the improperly stored material over the weekend at the Camp Minden industrial site has led to evacuation of the nearby town of Doyline and prompted a criminal investigation of Explo Systems Inc., which has not yet publicly commented on the investigation.

Seeing black: BP made its case for a brighter, albeit smaller, future on Monday, as BP CEO Bob Dudley and other key executives met with investors, explaining the company's growth strategy and hitting on other topics. The British oil giant has been selling off various assets and focusing on areas where it believes it can get the highest returns. The company plans to increase capital spending to as much as $27 billion by 2014 from $22 billion currently. The Houston Chronicle has the full story here.

In the vault: U.S. banks earned more from July through September than in any other quarter over the past six years. The increase is further evidence that the industry is strengthening four years after the 2008 financial crisis. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. reports the banking industry earned $37.6 billion in the third quarter, up 6.6% from $35.3 billion in the third quarter of 2011. About 57% of the banks reported improved earnings. The Associated Press has the full story here.

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