Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Fri, September 19, 2014


EBR sales tax collections rise in July

East Baton Rouge Parish collected about $465,800 more in sales taxes in July than it did during the month a year ago, an increase of 3.2%. According to the latest monthly report from the city-parish Department of Finance, released today, total collections inside and outside the city limits were roughly $14.9 million. A nearly 10% rise in collections inside the city limits offset a decline of more than 3% outside the city limits. Collections inside the city limits totaled slightly less than $8.1 million, which was 9.8% higher than collections of just under $7.4 million during the month last year. Collections outside the city limits totaled just more than $6.8 million, a decline of 3.6% from the roughly $7 million a year previous. Year to date, sales tax collections in East Baton Rouge Parish were at just below $103 million through July, or about 2.7% higher than the total collections of slightly more than $100 million through July last year. See the complete report. —Steve Sanoski

Health insurance program for state workers still hemorrhaging cash

Despite sweeping changes enacted by Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration, the health insurance program for state workers and public school employees will have to use $88 million from its reserve fund to cover its costs this year. As The Associated Press reports, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Office told lawmakers today that the Office of Group Benefits will spend an estimated $7.4 million more each month on claims and operating expenses than it will receive in premium payments. A "negative burn rate" continues even after premium hikes, service reductions and higher deductibles are put in place during the current budget year that began July 1, according to Travis McIlwain, an analyst with the fiscal office. To cover its costs, the Office of Group Benefits will continue to deplete a reserve fund that once stood at $500 million three years ago, but that has dropped to $207 million and is expected to shrink to $119 million by the end of this budget year. "The fund balance burn rate will be significantly reduced, but it will still be there," McIlwain told the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget. Last year, the insurance program spent $16.2 million more on average each month than it brought in, and the Jindal administration pointed to the improved forecast as a sign that its changes were putting the program on a solid financial footing. A press release from the Division of Administration yesterday said OGB is "on the right track." The Office of Group Benefits covers 230,000 current state workers, public school employees, retirees and their dependents. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana manages the health care plans that cover most of them. Read the full story.

'Daily Report' Week in Review: New angel investor fund looking for BR partners, BRAF says Acadian Village not for sale and much, much more

The executives behind a new investor fund shared with Daily Report this week their plans for attracting potential investment partners in Baton Rouge to raise some $4 million that will be used to help fund startup businesses along the 10/12 corridor. The fund, South Coast Angel Fund II, will be the second fund created by South Coast, a New Orleans-based entity established four years ago that creates early-stage venture capital funds. The first South Coast Angel Fund raised $2 million and invested between $300,000 and $500,000 each in five startups, including two in Baton Rouge and three in New Orleans. Fund executive Jon Atkinson says the second angel fund will be about twice as large, and that plans call for the creation of additional South Coast angel funds in the future. Also this week, Daily Report uncovered an offering memorandum for the Acadian Village shopping center—Commercial Properties Realty Trust's retail development at the intersection of Perkins Road and South Acadian Thruway—that's being circulated by HFF, a national real estate firm based in Dallas. But a spokesman for the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, which owns CPRT, says the 11-month-old shopping center is not on the market. "The Foundation and CPRT are repositioning real estate assets," says BRAF spokesman Mukul Verma. "In doing so, we are getting an indication of the value of the assets. Only after that will we decide which, if any, assets will be sold." The 40-page offering memorandum suggests otherwise. —Steve Sanoski Read the complete Daily Report Week in Review.

Despite more people with jobs, La. jobless rate rises in August

Louisiana's unemployment rate jumped again in August, the fourth straight month with an increase, according to figures released today. The Associated Press reports the state's jobless rate rose to 5.8% from 5.4% in July, but remains below August 2013's level of 6.2%. And yet the labor force rose by 15,000 people in August, while about 5,500 more people reported having jobs. A separate survey shows employer payrolls rose to yet another all-time high in Louisiana. Both sets of figures—adjusted to cancel out seasonal changes—were released by the U.S. Labor Department. Most of the increase in unemployment came from more Louisianans launching job searches than finding work. That lifted the number of unemployed people, who aren't counted unless they're actively seeking work. The report found 123,000 Louisianans were unemployed in August, up from about 114,000 in July and below the 131,000 in August 2013. Jobless rates rose in 24 states, fell in 15 and were unchanged in 11. Georgia had the highest jobless rate at 8.1%, while North Dakota retained the nation's lowest jobless rate at 2.8%. The national unemployment rate fell to 6.1% in August from 6.2% in July. That's far lower than the 7.2% rate in August 2013. Read the full story.

'225': Women find success in the local culinary world

While the culinary world remains dominated by men, the balance of men and women attending culinary school is leveling out as more women are drawn to careers in food. In Baton Rouge's expanding food scene, women occupy a significant role as caterers, food truck owners and even head chefs. In the current issue of 225, Maggie Heyn Richardson profiles seven women who are making their mark on the Capital City's culinary scene. Among those profiled are Leslie Teel and Megan Nealy of French Market Bistro. Nealy is the chef de cuisine, and Teel is the head line chef. Together, they are creating daily specials and executing them in the kitchen. While food has been in Nealy's background since she was a child, Teel is a former LSU art major who decided the culinary world was the right place to express her creative talents. "I could never work in an office," Teel says. "You have to love the pace and enjoy doing a million things at once." Also profiled in the article is Lauren Silvernail, the sous chef at Beausoleil. She can't get enough of life on the kitchen line. "We're slammed every night, and you've got to be on top of your game," she says. "The adrenaline rush is incredible." Silvernail has become indispensable at the Bocage eatery, according to chef/owner Nathan Gresham. Often, the two talents take turns running the show. Silvernail admits she's always been hooked on food but says, "When it's your passion, you can't do anything else." Read the full feature.

OMV leader says work ongoing to cut wait times

The Office of Motor Vehicles says it is working to shrink wait times for people renewing their driver's licenses and registering their vehicles. Lawmakers say they have received complaints that waits have spiked, with people being forced to wait in line for more than an hour—and sometimes three hours—to handle routine tasks. Col. Mike Edmonson oversees the Office of Motor Vehicles as head of the Department of Public Safety. The Associated Press reports he told the Legislature's joint budget committee today that he was enacting changes to speed up visits to OMV locations around Louisiana. Edmonson cited "express lanes" set up at larger OMV offices, the expansion of a privatization effort that allows people to renew their licenses elsewhere and improvements to the OMV website so people can do more business online.

News Roundup: La. rig count down two on the week … Uber rolls into NOLA this weekend … Foreign investors' enthusiasm for US LNG dims

One weak week: The number of rigs exploring for oil and natural gas in Louisiana and off its shores declined by two this week, according to a weekly count published by Houston-based oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc. Nationwide, the number of rigs remains unchanged on the week, holding at 1,931. Texas and West Virginia both lost more rigs than Louisiana, but California, Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota and Oklahoma all gained rigs. The rig count is up from 1,761 rigs at this time last year. The Associated Press has the full story.

Where the rubber meets the road: Uber, the taxi alternative ridesharing company, says it will begin service in New Orleans this weekend, after the city council approved a measure to allow the service to move in earlier this month. In a press release issued today, Uber warns users that demand could be high this weekend with a low availability of drivers. Uber already operates in over 200 cities, including Baton Rouge. Uber has more details on its service in New Orleans.

Jumping ship: Some foreign energy companies based in Asia are trying to get out of investments they've made in U.S. natural gas supplies, including India-based Gail, which bought five-years of supply from Cheniere Energy's Sabine Pass plant, Reuters reports. Companies initially rushed to invest in supplies because of the affordable product. But companies invested too much too quickly, and some are now looking to unload their risks. Read the full report here.
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