Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Thu, December 20, 2012

New La. restaurant inspection practices to be rolled out today

The Louisiana Department of Health & Hospitals this afternoon will announce measures designed to enact "more robust, consistent" health inspections of retail food establishments statewide. The announcement comes just weeks after a Legislative Auditor's report highlighted several problems with the way the Office of Public Health inspects restaurants. In an interview with Daily Report, Assistant Secretary J.T. Lane says the problems are largely a productivity issue. The department has been working since February to address management shortcomings by implementing a new tracking system designed to improve productivity. The system was piloted in East Baton Rouge Parish and other areas, he says, and has been yielding promising results. Staff will also be reallocated to meet demand appropriately in each region. "I don't think we had the accurate tools to measure what the capability and productivity expectations should be for our workforce," says Lane, who was appointed to his post this fall. "When I came in October, this was one of our chief priorities." Lane says the pilot program in Baton Rouge has upped the number of inspections done here by 10%. The audit, which DHH requested, found that OPH issued restaurant permits to four out of 30 establishments with critical health violations, and issued only four compliance orders during the two-year period, despite identifying some 450,000 violations at restaurants around the state. What's more, the audit notes that even though OPH has a website on which it posts restaurant inspection results, the data on the site is incomplete. To see a summary of the audit, click here; or view the report in its entirety here. —Penny Font

Capital Region foreclosure rate falls to lowest level in nearly 3 years

Foreclosure rates in the greater Baton Rouge area fell to 2.12% in October, down from 2.43% the month previous—and the lowest level they've been at since January 2010, when the local foreclosure rate was 2.1%. That's according to the latest monthly foreclosure report from CoreLogic, released this morning, which also says the percentage of homes in some stage of foreclosure across Louisiana fell to 2.25% in October, down from 2.51% the month previous. The local and statewide foreclosure rates were both below the national 3.06% rate in October, which was down 0.5% from September. Meanwhile, the Capital Region's mortgage delinquency rate—that is, the percentage of home loans three months or more past due—was at 5.29% in October. That's down from the previous month's rate of 5.36% as well as the 5.63% rate in October 2011. For historical comparison, the Baton Rouge area foreclosure rate was 1.28% in January 2009, 2.1% in January 2010, 2.79% in January 2011, and 2.43% in January of this year. CoreLogic has a map of foreclosure rates by ZIP code in the Capital Region that you can check out here.

Rhorer: New corner store a good addition to downtown, yet not 'a real grocery store'

DDD Executive Director Davis Rhorer was as surprised as anyone when, in the process of doing a television interview Wednesday on new downtown projects, he saw a sign going up for a corner store at Third Street and Florida Boulevard, with an application for a liquor permit pasted to the door. "I checked it out real quick," says Rhorer, who concedes he was initially concerned that the planned establishment would amount to little more than a packaged liquor store. But after talking to the store's owner, Michael Matroodnejad, Rhorer says he is optimistic the store will be more like a New York City¨–style corner store, with a mix of convenience items and groceries. The store will not, however, fill the need for a full-service grocery store, something Rhorer has been trying to bring to downtown for several years. "I am encouraged by what this could mean for downtown," he says. "But we still need a real grocery store." Matroodnejad and his business partner have been invited to address the DDD at the agency's meeting in January. —Stephanie Riegel

La. revenue department to close offices, make staff changes

The Louisiana Department of Revenue announced this morning plans to close district offices in Alexandria, Lafayette, Lake Charles, Monroe, Shreveport, Dallas and Houston. The closures will annually save the state about $500,000, department head Tim Barfield says in a news release. The department says district office employees will not be laid off, but instead will utilize mobile technology to work from the field. However, the department adds it is also planning "a significant reduction of unclassified personnel" and says it plans to make available a "retirement incentive plan" to eligible employees. The number of people that the department expects to let go was unavailable as of press time this morning. The department also announced this morning that it will add 15 new auditors and two new criminal investigators, install new software to identify tax evasion and fraud, and work to improve customer service.

New vehicle tax break regulations take effect this week

Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration is moving ahead with new regulations that spell out limits for the state's alternative fuel vehicle tax credit. The final rule governing the tax credit program is being published today and will take effect this week. The alternative fuel vehicle tax break's cost has grown much larger than estimated and become a headache for the Jindal administration because of differing interpretations about eligibility. The new regulations will definitively eliminate "flex-fuel" cars and trucks—which can burn ethanol but also use gasoline—from qualifying for the credit. Including flex-fuel vehicles could have cost the state an estimated $240 million a year. The program gives buyers a credit of 10% of the cost of an eligible vehicle, or $3,000, whichever is less. Read a recent Daily Report story for more analysis on the tax credit here.

'225 Weekender': Slip on a pair of skates at the River Center

With Baton Rouge's relatively warm and humid winters, the chances are pretty much nil for most of us ever to experience skating on an actual frozen river. Thank goodness, then, for the River Center's annual Skating on the River, which lets us strap on some blades and glide across the ice for a spell. A $12 ticket gets you refreshments, skates and an hour and a half of icy glee. Skating starts Friday and continues through Jan. 2. Click here for details. See other local happenings going on this weekend and beyond in the new 225 Weekender e-newsletter here.

Jindal: Louisiana tax code needs to be 'fairer, flatter and simpler'

In his latest monthly column, Gov. Bobby Jindal calls 2012 a "strong" year for Louisiana's economy and says the mission for 2013 is to straighten out the state's tax code. "Our tax code is too complex, too littered with loopholes, and too burdensome on families and businesses," says Jindal, who has previously said his top priority next year will be restructuring the tax code but has yet to propose specific changes. "We need to make our tax code fairer, flatter and simpler for Louisiana families and businesses. Unquestionably, there will be some who see tax reform as an opportunity to raise taxes on hardworking families and small businesses, but that's exactly the wrong approach. Make no mistake—this will not be an effort to raise revenue and grow government. Instead, we must revamp our tax code in order to spur more private-sector job growth." Looking back on 2012, Jindal highlights some of the state's major economic development projects that he says will result in more than 24,000 new jobs and more than $18 billion in capital investment. He also says Louisiana has been in the top 10 states for private-sector job growth over the past four years, while per capital income has increased by $2,700 over the same period. Read the full column here.

Editor's note: If you have a guest column that you'd like Daily Report to consider for publication, please email it to [email protected]. Business Report editors will make all decisions on publication and reserve the right to edit for content or clarity.

IntercontinentalExchange to buy NYSE for $8.2B

The New York Stock Exchange is being sold to a rival exchange for about $8.2 billion, ending more than two centuries of independence for the iconic Big Board. The buyer, IntercontinentalExchange Inc., or ICE, an upstart exchange based in Atlanta, made clear this morning that little would change on the trading floor in Manhattan's financial district if regulators approve the deal. There will be dual headquarters in New York and Atlanta, and ICE will open an office in Manhattan. NYSE CEO Duncan Niederauer will become president of the combined company and CEO of NYSE Group. ICE says that the acquisition will create a top exchange operator covering a diverse lineup of markets and boosting efficiency. "We believe the combined company will be better positioned to compete and serve customers across a broad range of asset classes by uniting our global brands, expertise and infrastructure," says ICE Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Sprecher, who will keep his positions under the deal. Four members of the NYSE board will be added to ICE's board, expanding it to 15 members. The Associated Press has more details on the deal in the full story here.

News roundup: LBP report says 200K working Louisianans would benefit from Medicaid expansion … LSU punter Wing reportedly suspended for Chick-fil-A Bowl

Facts and figures: Around 200,000 low-income Louisianans who are currently working—in tourism, retail sales, health care and other sectors vital to the state's economy—would gain health-care coverage in 2014 if the state were to take advantage of the opportunity to expand its Medicaid program via the Affordable Care Act. That's according to a new analysis released this morning by the Louisiana Budget Project, a left-leaning public policy watchdog group. Check out the full report here.

Booted: LSU sophomore punter Brad Wing will not play for the Tigers in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, a source close to the situation is telling The Times-Picayune this morning. LSU is set to play Clemson in the game Dec. 31 in the Georgia Dome. Wing, a left-footed kicker from Melbourne, Australia, likely will be replaced by fellow Australian Jamie Keehn, a freshman from Queensland. Read the full story here.

Today's poll question: If LSU punter Brad Wing does not play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, do you think it will affect the Tigers' chances of beating Clemson?

Sign up for E-Newsletters