Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Wed, June 26, 2013

'Business Report': Despite handicaps, B.R. hopes to grow its niche in the convention and tourism sector

In 2012, Baton Rouge hosted the Open Championships, which the U.S. Bowling Congress calls the world's largest annual participatory sporting event. Landing it was considered quite a coup for the city. According to the official tally, more than 70,000 bowlers and guests passed through town sometime during the six-month event at the Baton Rouge River Center. A study commissioned by Visit Baton Rouge, the local tourism bureau, showed the tournament packed an economic impact of more than $113 million. So it was a big deal in February when officials announced the USBC bowlers are coming back. Baton Rouge will host the Women's Championships in 2017, while the Open Championships will be held here for the third time in 2025. "This is truly one of our greatest economic achievements, because it has solidly established Baton Rouge as a great place to visit among American cities," Mayor Kip Holden said. Attracting Bowling Congress championships might be a great achievement, as Holden says. Yet it's an achievement that some cities with big-time tourism profiles wouldn't even bother to chase. And when the bowlers go home, residents still are left with a smallish convention center in a third-tier convention city, a mere hour away from one of the most beloved destination cities in the world. Even with those handicaps, Visit Baton Rouge helped attract 317 conventions in 2012, part of a relatively big year for local tourism. Read the complete new Business Report cover story by David Jacobs here; and send your comments to [email protected].

IBM groundbreaking slated for late September

A groundbreaking on IBM's new 100,000-square-foot riverfront complex is tentatively scheduled for late September, according to Tina Rance, a spokeswoman for Commercial Properties Realty Trust, which is developing the building for the state through the Baton Rouge Area Foundation's Wilbur Marvin Foundation. The Lemoine Company has been chosen as the general contractor on the $30.5 million, eight-story complex, which will cover the entire downtown block that once was the site of The Advocate's newsroom and offices. A committee led by the project's architects, Antunovich Associates, selected The Lemoine Company in April from among several Louisiana contractors, according to Rance, who says the contract was not required to be bid. The Lemoine Company, which is headquartered in Lafayette and has offices in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, is also part of a joint venture in charge of the ongoing Tiger Stadium expansion and has completed several other downtown projects, including The Shaw Center. IBM's plans, which were announced in late March, call for the downtown office tower to be completed by spring 2015, with an adjacent residential and ground-floor retail complex to be completed by summer 2015. —Stephanie Riegel

Metro Council to consider rezoning for 13th Gate tonight

Property taxes and a rezoning request for a macabre amusement park are on tap at this afternoon's Metro Council meeting. The council will take up millage rates for Chaneyville and Brownsfield fire protection districts. The panel also plans to take up a requested zoning change that would pave the way for a second 13th Gate Park location: a proposed 75-acre haunted house and recreational park complete with a corn maze, outdoor laser tag field, and a zombie run and faux cemetery, to be situated near Joor and Mickens roads. Also on the agenda are a provision to allow for pay raises for Baton Rouge city court judges, as mandated by the recently ended legislative session; and a $250,000 grant award to DDD to pay for design and planning of a Downtown Greenway. The Metro Council is set to address these issues at its 4 p.m. meeting, which takes place on the third floor of City Hall, 222 St. Louis St. You can find the full agenda here.

Report: La. faces one of the worst dentist shortages in U.S.

Louisiana has one of the highest shortages of dentists in the country, according to a new national report released Tuesday, only days before the state will slash its Medicaid reimbursement rates for dental care. The analysis, released by the nonpartisan Pew Charitable Trusts, says more than 24% of Louisiana's population is underserved by dentists and lives in areas with a shortage of dentists; this percentage places Louisiana second only to Mississippi and tied with Alabama in the Pew study. In addition, nearly 42% of Louisiana's dentists are over 55 years old and nearing retirement, which could signal worsening shortages in the years ahead, the study says. The findings come as the state Department of Health and Hospitals is cutting reimbursement rates paid to dentists through the government-funded Medicaid program with the July 1 start of the new budget year, a move that dentists say will shrink access to services. The health department announced the cuts late last week, saying lawmakers didn't provide enough money to continue all existing services and pay for expected increases in Medicaid program use. DHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert says the 3% cut to the rates dentists are paid for taking care of Medicaid patients, mostly children, is a mild decrease to spending on dental care that shouldn't cause dentists to stop offering care to the poor. "It's a very minor reduction, and it still puts us ahead of our neighboring states in terms of the rates for most services," she says. But those neighboring states also are listed by Pew as high-shortage areas. Read the full story and access the complete study here.

Consultant says La. needs to shift tax burden to keep young professionals

Shifting the tax burden is key to keeping people in Louisiana, says data analysis consultant Elliot Stonecipher of Shreveport. "We have way too many people not paying taxes," says Stonecipher, president and owner of Evets Management Services Inc., who spoke to the Rotary Club of Alexandria on Tuesday. The state, he says, must widen the net of those paying taxes. Stonecipher says eight states do not have income taxes, including Tennessee, which taxes passive income only; those tax structures are meant largely to attract younger residents rather than retirees, he says. But that's not the case in Louisiana. "We have a place for retirees … because we lock in property taxes for [residents] at 65 years old," Stonecipher says. "It's the young people we're not getting." Lack of jobs and quality of life are what put off "young people," referring to those ages 18-50, from staying or coming to Louisiana, he says. "The theory is, they go away for 10 years to Atlanta or Dallas or somewhere and come back, but they're not coming back," he says. Changing that will need to be done on the local level, he says, rather than by state governments, to offer individualized solutions. The (Alexandria) Town Talk has the full story here.

Supreme Court hands down rulings in favor of gay marriage rights

Gay rights activists are celebrating significant legal victories this morning as the Supreme Court has handed down separate rulings that say legally married same-sex couples should get the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples. A second ruling clears the way for same-sex marriage in California. In its first ruling this morning, the court invalidated a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that has prevented married gay couples from receiving a range of tax, health and retirement benefits that are generally available to married people. The vote was 5-4. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion. Same-sex marriage has been adopted by 12 states and the District of Columbia. Another 18,000 couples were married in California during a brief period when same-sex unions were legal there. "Under DOMA, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways," Kennedy writes. "DOMA's principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal." In a separate ruling, the Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex marriage in California by holding that defenders of California's gay marriage ban did not have the right to appeal lower court rulings striking down the ban. The vote was also 5-4, and it leaves in place the initial trial court declaration that the ban is unconstitutional. California officials probably will rely on that ruling to allow the resumption of same-sex unions in about a month's time.

Today’s poll question: Do you think the U.S. Supreme Court rulings today will clear the way for national legalization of same-sex marriage?

News roundup: Nearly 6,000 La. homeowners to get mortgage aid … Port of South La. sets tonnage record in 2012 … U.S. economy first-quarter growth rate revised lower

In the mail: Borrowers who submitted foreclosure-related claims to the National Mortgage Settlement should be receiving checks in the mail soon. The Louisiana Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division says 5,953 residents who submitted valid claims should receive a check for about $1,480 under terms of the settlement. In February 2012, 49 state attorneys general and the federal government announced the joint state-federal National Mortgage Settlement with the country's five largest mortgage servicers: Ally (formerly GMAC), Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo.

Pushing weight: The Port of South Louisiana, the largest tonnage port in the country, moved more tons of product in 2012 than ever before, according to the port's recently released statistics. As The Times-Picayune reports, in 2012 the port had nearly 279 million tons of petrochemicals, food products, building materials and fuel pass through it last year, breaking its previous record—274 million tons in 2011—by 2%, or roughly 4 million tons. The full story is here.

Money matters: The U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 1.8% in the first three months of the year, significantly slower than first thought. The Commerce Department's previous growth estimate for the January-March quarter was an annual rate of 2.4%. The downward revision was mostly due to the fact that consumers spent less than earlier estimated, a sign that higher taxes could be having a halting impact on growth. The revised rate is still faster than the 0.4% rate in the October-December quarter. The full story can be found here.

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