Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Wed, August 27, 2014

DHH to provide $18M to keep BR General Mid City ER open through June 2015

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals has identified $18 million it will provide to Baton Rouge General Hospital to keep the facility's Mid City emergency room open through the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2015. The state is also committed to working with the hospital on a long-term solution to "ensure we have a sustainable funding methodology to keep services in that community," according to DHH Chief of Staff Calder Lynch. DHH announced today it had identified funding to help the hospital with its uncompensated care costs, just hours after the hospital began notifying its staff of plans to close the emergency room on Nov. 1. The hospital's board of trustees voted on the closure Tuesday night, a move prompted by mounting losses that are the result of increased emergency room usage by indigent patients. Lynch says the state has been aware of the problems at BRG and of discussions among its administration about what to do for several months. But he says the decision to pony up the additional state funds did not come until after Tuesday's board vote. "I think they were very serious about closing the ER, and we recognized that was not something we wanted to see happen to that community," he says. In an email to employees, BRG President and CEO Mark Slyter apologized for "the concern caused by our earlier announcements. After months of research and planning, we genuinely felt we had no option but to make these proposed changes. With this change of events, we find ourselves in a very different—and very positive—position." While the announcement is certainly good news for the hospital and patients in the short term, it is unclear what the permanent solutions to the situation might be. DHH and BRG officials, along with Mayor Kip Holden, have scheduled a press conference at 5 p.m. to officially announce the agreement to keep the ER open. —Stephanie Riegel

Legislature's chief economist paints bleak picture of La. finances

Greg Albrecht, chief economist for the Legislative Fiscal Office, delivered a downbeat assessment of state finances to the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge today. "We are facing the third year of essentially zero sales tax growth," Albrecht said, and the revenues needed to fill the yawning $1.2 billion predicted shortfall in the state budget this coming year will require another round of raiding "ad hoc" funds from sources that are not sustainable and were never intended to be in the general fund. "I get asked all the time, 'Why can't we live with the budget we had in 2005?' My answer is simple: We can. Just give me the tax base we had in 2005," before the repeal of the so-called Stelly Plan at the height of the recession in 2009. The Stelly Plan was a constitutional amendment that was repealed under pressure from middle-class voters who chafed at paying higher income taxes without feeling a corresponding offset in sales tax payments. Current methods of making both ends meet require fanciful bookkeeping and sweeping of funds—sometimes funds that haven't yet accrued, Albrecht said. Acknowledging that the public seems to suffer a disconnect between the happy talk about economic expansion and the actual numbers he crunches every day, Albrecht attributed it at least in part to the "announcement effect." "We hear about all these billions of dollars of investment, but until we start moving dirt and pouring concrete and putting up steel, there is no effect" on the economy, he said. Albrecht said he also appreciates that Louisiana "has been doing it like this for a number of years. The question is, how long can you keep doing it?" —David Dodson

Pro-voucher group seeks to undo order in La. case

A group supporting taxpayer-funded private school tuition vouchers is appealing a federal judge's order that Louisiana must provide regular reports to federal officials on the state's voucher program. The Associated Press reports U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle ordered the reports in April. He ruled that they are needed to make sure Louisiana complies with a 1975 desegregation order about state money going to private schools. The order requires that the state provide federal officials with lists of voucher applicants, information on schools in the voucher program, and enrollment and racial breakdowns on public schools and private schools in the voucher program. A group of voucher families, represented by the conservative Goldwater Institute, say the ruling resulted from a Justice Department effort to "stifle" the voucher program. Also involved in the appeal is the Louisiana Black Alliance for Educational Options, a pro-voucher group. State officials have said the ruling won't impede the program. Read the full story.

Bell Helicopter breaks ground on La. assembly center

With assembly operations of a new helicopter line expected to begin at the Lafayette Regional Airport by 2016, Bell Helicopter today announced the start of construction of its Lafayette Aircraft Assembly Center that is expected to create 115 new direct jobs. Gov. Bobby Jindal joined company officials at the Lafayette airport this afternoon to make the announcement. Jindal and Bell officials originally announced the company's plans for the Lafayette project in December. The 82,300-square-foot, $26.3 million assembly center will be funded by the State of Louisiana, owned by Lafayette Regional Airport and leased by Bell. The company will make an additional capital investment of $11.4 million in equipment and tooling at the 14.5-acre airport site, which is adjacent to U.S. 90. Officials say Bell is on schedule to meet an occupancy target of June 2015 for the assembly facility. Hiring is expected to begin in 2015. Along with the new direct jobs, Louisiana Economic Development estimates the project will also create another 136 permanent indirect jobs in the Lafayette area. A new line of helicopters, the Bell 505 JetRanger X, will be built at the facility. Company officials say they've already inked purchase agreements on 200 of the five-seat, single-engine, turbine helicopters. The state is providing Bell with an incentive package that includes performance-based grants of $4 million for lease support, $3.8 million for infrastructure and equipment and $200,000 for relocation expenses. LED has more details on today's annoucement.

Sullivan's plans renovation adjacent to ongoing work at Esplanade Mall

Sullivan's Steakhouse, which operates in Esplanade Mall at the corner of College Drive and Corporate Boulevard, has submitted an application to the East Baton Rouge Department of Public Works to remodel the restaurant. A manager at Sullivan's declined to discuss details of the renovation, but it appears to be significant. According to the application, the renovations are projected to cost $500,000 and will cover more than 7,800 square feet of the roughly 11,170 total square feet the restaurant encompasses. The restaurant is adjacent to a long-vacant former department store in Esplanade Mall that recently began undergoing a partial demolition and renovation. Other tenants in the shopping center include Hooter's, Lock and Key Whiskey Bar and the Melting Pot. —Kelly Connelly

Miles pens open love letter to BR

LSU head coach says he can't imagine living anywhere other than in Baton Rouge. In an open letter to the city Miles penned for The Huffington Post as part of its Love Letters feature, Miles talks about how rooted his family has become in Baton Rouge. "It's hard to believe that it's now been nearly 10 years that my family has called you home. We have come to love everything about this wonderful city and state. From the food, the people, and of course LSU, I can't imagine living anywhere else," Miles writes. "I have watched my four children grow up here, and Kathy and I have been honored and proud to have been part of such a great community. Whether it's been on the soccer field, swimming pool or baseball diamond, my kids have had great opportunities growing up here. They've made friendships and created memories that will last a lifetime, and for that, I'm grateful." Miles also waxes poetic on LSU and the famed atmosphere on campus during the college football season. " There's nothing like a Saturday in the fall on the LSU campus, especially when it's a night game in Tiger Stadium," he says. "With the sun setting in the Western Sky and 'Calling Baton Rouge' playing during pre-game to get the crowd into a frenzy, there's no better place than Tiger Stadium." Miles finishes up his letter by thanking the city and saying "it's truly an honor to call you home." Oh, and of course, he closes with: "Geaux Tigers!" Read the full letter.

News roundup: Louisiana Business & Technology Center creates new prototyping center … WAFB expanding weekday morning newscast to WBXH … CenturyLink opens new data center in Toronto area

Preparing to launch: The Louisiana Business & Technology Center at the LSU Innovation Park is launching a new prototyping center, ProtoStripes, that provides the necessary equipment for companies to build prototypes of their inventions, innovations and technologies. Officials say the center will welcome all Louisiana entrepreneurs and businesses to take advantage of ProtoStripe's professional services to aid innovators on the design, functionality and creation of 3D prototypes. A launch party for the center is planned on Wednesday, Sept. 10, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the LSU Innovation Park, 8000 GSRI Ave.

On air: WAFB-TV announced today that it's expanding its weekday morning newscast to include its sister station WBXH. Beginning on Monday, Sept. 8., 9News this Morning—Big Xtra Hour will air from 7 to 8 a.m. on WBXH, featuring Graham Ulkins on the news desk, along with forecaster Diane Deaton and traffic reporter Johnny Ahysen. WAFB says the newscast will have a heavy emphasis on live traffic and weather for the many commuters heading out to work during that time in the morning.

North of the border: CenturyLink—one of two Fortune 500 companies in Louisiana—has announced the grand opening of its new data center in the greater Toronto area. Designed to serve growing demand for access to secure colocation, managed hosting and cloud services, the data center is CenturyLink's second in the Toronto region and fourth in Canada. The new data center, known as TR3, is built to support up to 5 megawatts of IT load and 100,000 square feet of raised floor space. The Shreveport Times has the full story.
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