Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Wed, January 30, 2013

D.R. Horton to buy Burbank development from Day

National homebuilder D.R. Horton has signed a purchase agreement with developer R.W. Day to acquire 69 acres of raw land at Pelican Lakes, Day's long-stalled planned unit development on Burbank Avenue. Day confirms the parcel is under contract and is expected to close "very soon." Though Day declines to provide a specific date or additional details, it appears the property transfer could take place in the next two weeks: D.R. Horton is listed as the owner of the property on the agenda for the Planning and Zoning Commission's Feb. 18 meeting, at which Horton will seek approval for Pelican Lakes' final development plan. "This was originally developed to be a PUD, and this is more or less in keeping with the PUD design," says Day, who began Pelican Lakes in the mid-2000s but completed only the first phase, the 60-unit Stonelake Condominiums. "They're just coming with an additional phase here, so they're not changing the zoning or anything," says Ryan Holcomb, a spokesman for the city-parish Planning Commission. The final development plan calls for 230 single-family homes on 32 acres, 93 townhomes on nearly 5 acres, a community recreational facility, ponds and green space. —Stephanie Riegel and Adam Pearson

Buzz building for B.R. film biz

The second half of 2012 was pretty slow for the film business, in Baton Rouge and elsewhere. But now pilot season is upon us, and Patrick Mulhearn, director of studio operations at Raleigh Studios Baton Rouge, says his phone is ringing off the hook. "If even a fraction of these films and TV pilots land here," Mulhearn says, "2013 will blow the doors off every previous year in Baton Rouge." Liza Kelso, assistant director with the Baton Rouge Film Commission, agrees that the buzz is picking up, although the commission doesn't have any solid information to release yet. "It is exciting," she says. "We've got a lot of stuff hovering, hopefully making a landing soon. We cannot wait." Louisiana's film business is heavily subsidized by state tax incentives, and the industry will watch the next legislative session closely to see whether tax reform entails changes to the incentive program. However, Mulhearn says he doesn't think anyone believes the incentives are going away anytime soon, adding that any changes likely wouldn't kick in until after July 1. He says film industry-related business owners looking to set up shop for the long term tend to view Gov. Bobby Jindal and LED Secretary Stephen Moret as pro-growth and pro-industry. —David Jacobs

Judge orders Perkins Rowe foreclosure sale date set

The federal judge in the Perkins Rowe foreclosure case has ordered the U.S. Marshal to set a date for the foreclosure sale of the mixed-use development on Bluebonnet Boulevard. In theory, at least, U.S. District Judge James Brady’s order, signed this afternoon, brings lender KeyBank National Association one step closer to taking the property back from developer Tommy Spinosa, who owes the Ohio bank more than $200 million on the project. In a court filing earlier this month, KeyBank asked that the foreclosure sale date be set by March 20. Once the sale date is set, Perkins Rowe will presumably be sold at auction to the highest bidder. According to court documents, the minimum bid must be two-thirds—or $63.3 million—of the $95 million appraised value of the development. —Stephanie Riegel

GOP lawmakers seeking to fight new limits on guns

The gun control debate is coming to the Louisiana Legislature, where Republican lawmakers are launching a counteroffensive to federal efforts to put new limits on gun ownership. GOP lawmakers are proposing new laws that would penalize people who publish names of concealed carry permit holders and that would seek to prohibit enforcement of any new federal restrictions on semi-automatic firearms. Bossier City Republican Rep. Jeff Thompson has started a statewide campaign that he says is designed to defend gun ownership rights in Louisiana. He's calling it "Defend Louisiana." New Orleans Rep. Helena Moreno, a Democrat and vice chair of the House criminal justice committee, says she expects the majority of bills to be considered by the panel will be on gun issues when the Legislature returns for a regular session in April.

Report: Top 1% in La. have relatively light state, local tax burden

The highest-earning 1% of Louisiana's non-elderly taxpayers contribute 4.6% of their income in state and local taxes, according to the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy, which promotes fair tax policies that do not take a larger percentage of income from middle- and low-income families than from wealthy families. The national average is 5.6%. The bottom 20% of earners in Louisiana pay 10.6% of their income in state and local taxes, the report says. The liberal Louisiana Budget Project references the ITEP report in a news release today, warning that a tax overhaul that eliminates corporate and personal income taxes while increasing sales taxes—as proposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal—"could make Louisiana's tax structure even more tilted against the poor." The Jindal administration says its tax reform package will preserve tax exemptions for food, medicine and utilities, and find a new way to deliver the benefit of the state's Earned Income Tax Credit, thereby leaving the poor no worse off than at present. Read the report's Louisiana fact sheet here.

State updates software in attempt to stem rising tax fraud

The Louisiana Department of Revenue says it has taken steps to combat an increasing number of tax fraud cases, which it links to rising electronic filing. Federal and state income tax returns are being accepted beginning today, and most early filers will likely take to the Internet to submit theirs. Last year, 80% of federal returns were filed electronically across the United States, according to department figures, and in Louisiana electronic filing has risen by 58% since 2007. "With the increase in electronic filing, tax fraud has skyrocketed," reads an LDR statement released today. "At the federal level, tax fraud remains the third largest theft of federal funds and has risen to a record 1.1 million cases in 2011. … Tax fraud cases in Louisiana directly discovered as a result of current theft protection measures have risen to almost 23,000 cases in 2012." In coordination with the Internal Revenue Service, LDR says it recently developed a new "customized Louisiana-specific fraud protection computer interface." All returns received today and beyond will be subject to a new identity verification system, LDR says. Those who file returns deemed questionable will be directed to a customized online data test or a telephone survey to verify their identity.

Fed cites 'pause' in growth, stands by stimulus

The Federal Reserve says growth "paused" in recent months and has reaffirmed its commitment to boost a sluggish U.S. economy by keeping borrowing cheap for the foreseeable future. The Fed took no new action after a two-day policy meeting today, but it stood behind aggressive steps it launched in December to try to reduce unemployment. Last month the Fed said it would keep its key short-term interest rate at a record low at least until unemployment falls below 6.5%. And it said it would keep buying $85 billion a month in Treasuries and mortgage bonds to try to keep borrowing costs low and encourage spending. The Commerce Department also reports today that the economy shrank at an annual rate of 0.1% during the fourth quarter of 2012, mainly because companies restocked at a slower rate and the government slashed defense spending. In its statement, the Fed says the slowdown in growth was largely due to weather-related disruptions and other temporary factors. It notes that employment continues to expand at a moderate pace, consumer spending and business investment increased, and the housing sector showed further improvement. The central bank also says strains in global financial markets have eased somewhat, but cautions that risks remain.

News roundup: Input sought on clean air solutions … Coast Guard letting vessels pass leaking barge … Nearly half of Americans are one emergency from financial ruin

Don't be afraid to care: The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and the Baton Rouge Clean Air Coalition are seeking public input on air quality strategies to reduce ozone formation and maintain attainment with the national standards. DEQ has created a statewide survey that allows the public to make suggestions. Data collected will be shared with DE! Ozone Advance groups from each area of the state. You can take the survey here.

Idle days: The Coast Guard was letting some southbound vessels pass through a closed section of the Mississippi River at Vicksburg today as it continues to evaluate how traffic would affect efforts to remove and clean up oil from a leaking barge. Even though some barges are being allowed to pass, a 16-mile stretch of the river remained technically closed four days after two barges struck a railroad bridge. The Associated Press has more on this story here.

Paycheck to paycheck: An estimated 44% of American households are one emergency away from financial ruin, according to a recent study by the Corporation for Enterprise Development. That means they don't have enough savings to cover basic living expenses for three months if something unforeseen happens, such as losing a job or falling sick. At the same time, the study says, one-third of Americans have no savings account at all.

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