Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Thu, February 21, 2013

News alert: Jindal counts on hospital plan for budget savings

Gov. Bobby Jindal says his proposed $24.7 billion budget for next year relies heavily on privatization plans for LSU's charity hospitals to offset the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Medicaid funding. Jindal says his budget will include "significant savings" in the LSU hospitals by turning many of them over to private management. Jindal says the budget includes minimal cuts to the health department and, with tuition increases, will keep spending flat for colleges. The full proposal and details will be outlined Friday to lawmakers.

'Advocate' deal up to Georges, publisher says

Nearly one month after The Advocate stunned Baton Rouge readers by announcing it is in serious sales talks with a potential buyer—later identified by Daily Report to be New Orleans businessman John Georges— negotiations between the two sides continue with no word on if or when a deal may come together. Advocate Publisher David Manship, who is not directly involved in the negotiations, says it is his understanding the ball is in Georges' court right now. "It's strictly up to him. … I guess he's thinking about it," says Manship. "Frankly, I'll be glad when it's all over." Manship declines to discuss the asking price for the family-owned paper, though he says it is more than $50 million. "I'm telling you it's high," he says. "It's not worth what we're asking for it." The value of the privately held paper is unknown because its financials are not public. However, industry experts have estimated it could be between $25 million and $50 million, not counting its estimated $30 million debt load. Among his three siblings, Manship says he alone was against selling the paper, but was outvoted. "I kind of have a closer deal to it than the others do," he says, adding that his reticence to sell has not hampered negotiations with Georges. —Stephanie Riegel

Legislator says tax reform that hurts poor would be 'dead on arrival'

State Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette and chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, says any tax reform package that increases the burden on the poor or working poor would be "dead on arrival." He says lawmakers are discussing how to protect low-income workers and state retirees who otherwise would be losers if the state eliminates income taxes and raises sales taxes. The Jindal administration says it is working on ways to offset the impact on the poor. But state Rep. John Bel Edwards—an Amite Democrat who on Wednesday announced his intentions to run for governor in 2015—says any allowance made to one group in a revenue-neutral tax swap must be made up by taking more money from another group. He says oil and gas companies already are "screaming about" the possibility of losing severance tax exemptions. "I see this as a tax increase on most individuals" and a boon for high-earners, Edwards says. Jason DeCuir of the Department of Revenue says the administration envisions two bills: one that would eliminate the income tax and expand the sales tax base, and one that would create a single statewide sales tax collection body. Edwards says the first bill might run afoul of the state constitution's requirement that bills have a single object, and suggests the state Legislature can't constitutionally enlarge the scope of sales taxes beyond what voters have already approved in their local districts. Leaders With Vision, a new civic group, held a panel discussion about tax reform today. —David Jacobs

More local Marriotts in play

The iconic Marriott hotel on Hilton Avenue near Interstate 10 is not the only local Marriott property that may soon change hands. The Marriott Courtyard and Marriott Residence Inn, both on North Mall Drive near Siegen Lane, are under contract for an undisclosed price, according to the hotel's owner. "We are not at liberty to discuss the deal, but we are hoping it closes in the first quarter of the year," says John Dougherty, executive vice president for Olshan Hotel Management, a San Marcos, Fla.-based company that built the Courtyard and Residence motels in 1997 and 2000, respectively, and has managed them since. Though Dougherty would not identify the buyer, sources familiar with negotiations say the new owner is not local and intends to keep the Marriott flag on both properties, assuming the deal closes. Olshan's decision to sell is not based on the performance of the motels, both of which have averaged occupancy rates of between 75% and 80%, Dougherty says. "Rather, it's part of an overall strategic plan that we're getting out of that market and moving into other opportunities." In January, Daily Report confirmed the company that owns the 297-room Marriott on Hilton Ave., Columbia Sussex Corp., is in the process of tendering the property back to its lender and that the hotel could change hands within the next 90 days. To read that story click here. —Stephanie Riegel

Sherwood Forest residents confer with developer on apartments

Eugene Ji says he wants to build the most energy-efficient apartment complex in Baton Rouge. His neighbors have worked with Ji, but have concerns about the Green Cottage Rental Community in Sherwood Forest. "What he was proposing was a 94-unit rental community," says Gary Patureau, a neighbor. That many units would create a density that doesn't square with the city-parish's Comprehensive Land Use Plan—according to the Planning Commission—which requires new developments to preserve the character of established neighborhoods. "But [Ji] seems very willing to work with us," Patureau says. For now, Green Cottage is tabled for review by the Planning Commission board until March. In the meantime, Ji says he is modifying plans for the complex—which is located on Mollylea Drive, west of Sherwood Forest Boulevard—to pare it down by about 30% from its original design. He has also agreed to meet with the neighborhood association again to provide more updates and get feedback on the potential layout of the rental community.Ji's goal is to utilize every available energy-efficient product on the market—from solar panels to appliances and light bulbs—and make each Green Cottage resident's energy bill not much more than $20 per month. "We want to educate people that there's a way to live in an energy-efficient house," Ji says. —Adam Pearson

Editor's note: This story has been changed since its original publication to refelect the neighborhood association has not endorsed the apartments. The group opposes rental units. Daily Report regrets the error.

EBR building permits have flat start in 2013

At 1,628 total, 25 more building permits were issued in East Baton Rouge Parish during January than were issued during the month in 2012—good enough for a scant increase of 1.6%—according to a new report from the city-parish Public Works Department. Permitting for commercial and residential construction projects, however, was down during the month. A total of 50 permits for commercial projects—40 of them building additions—were issued, down from 58 in January 2012. On the residential side, 99 projects received permits—including 38 single-family homes and 61 additions or remodelings—compared to 123 in January last year. The total valuation of projects permitted in January was down sharply, from approximately $76.7 million in January 2012 to $29.7 million, a 61% decline. The relatively flat opening to 2013 in permitting follows a lackluster close to 2012. About 3,500 fewer projects were permitted in 2012 than were in 2011—at 18,260 total, compared to 21,759 the year previous—a drop of roughly 16%. The annual tally was hampered by a December in which just 1,377 permits were issued, about 11.5% fewer than the 1,556 issued in December 2011. To see the full report, click here.

B.R. casino winnings drop in January

Baton Rouge's three casinos collectively won $21.7 million from gamblers in January, or about 5.5% less than the $22.9 million they won in December. As it has since opening in September, L'Auberge accounted for the bulk of the winnings—$10.7 million—but like the Belle of Baton Rouge and Hollywood Casino, it nonetheless saw a decline in winnings from December. L'Auberge's winnings were down 2.5%; the Belle of Baton Rouge's $4.5 million was 6.9% less than December winnings, and Hollywood Casino's $6.5 million represented a decline of 9.1%. The Louisiana Gaming Control Board posts detailed winnings reports for all state-licensed casinos here.

La. House leader says budget glimpse was encouraging

The chairman of the House budget-writing committee says he's feeling a bit better about coping with the state's more than $1 billion shortfall. Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin made the comments to The Associated Press today after getting a sneak peek at Gov. Bobby Jindal's spending recommendations for next year. Fannin says the Jindal administration anticipates significant savings from privatization plans for the LSU charity hospital system, and that those savings will help partially close the budget gap. He says Jindal proposes state general fund cuts to public colleges, but those reductions will be offset with tuition increases already planned. Jindal's budget proposal for the 2013-14 fiscal year will be presented to lawmakers Friday. Fannin says he doesn't yet know the details of where cuts will fall. Jindal has called a press conference at the Governor's Mansion at 3:50 p.m. today to discuss details of his budget proposal.

Sports roundup: How Phil Robertson found stardom after giving up football … Cannon checks out of hospital after stroke … Select school principals assert proposal 18 as unconstitutional

The road not taken: In the late 1960s in Ruston, the life paths of two Bulldog quarterbacks sharply diverged. There was Terry Bradshaw—who was destined to be the top pick in the 1970 NFL Draft, have a lengthy career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, win four Super Bowl victories, land a spot in the Hall of Fame, and a enjoy a second career in front of the camera. And then there was Phil Robertson—who was ahead of Bradshaw on Louisiana Tech's depth chart but gave up football with one year of eligibility remaining because the game and any future in it interfered with his heart's dearest passion: duck-hunting season. Sports Illustrated details Robertson's journey from Louisiana Tech to star of A&E's Duck Dynasty in the full story here.

Get well soon: LSU Vice Chancellor Herb Vincent says former Tigers great Billy Cannon has checked out of a hospital, two days after being admitted for treatment of a stroke. Vincent says one of Cannon's family members informed him today that Cannon was on his way home. Cannon's family has said that the 1959 Heisman Trophy winner was performing his job as dentist at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola on Tuesday when he showed symptoms of a stroke and was taken by ambulance to a hospital. The family has not released specifics about the prognosis for Cannon's recovery.

Breaking up is hard to do: The focus of today's meeting of select school principals quickly became whether the recently adopted proposal 18 violated the LHSAA's constitution, The Times-Picayune reports. The separation of select and nonselect schools' football playoffs has remained a heavily debated and heated topic in the month since the association voted in favor of the item, 206-119, at its annual convention Jan. 25. Karr Principal John Hiser asserted about 20 minutes into today's proceedings that the proposal contradicted the association's constitution and should be eliminated by the committee as a result. That position quickly gained traction. Read the full story here.

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