Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Thu, October 02, 2014

Kirk's Tires sells Airline property for $3M, plans move to new location south of I-12

After more than 20 years in business at 9555 Airline Highway, Kirk's Tires and Accessories has sold its 58,000-square-foot property and is relocating to a new site on Airline, south of Interstate 12. Brewster Holdings Baton Rouge LLC, acquired the property from Kirk's in a transaction that closed Tuesday. The sale price was $3 million. Kirk's owner Kirk Napoli decided to move to the new site at 11740 Airline Highway because it's a better fit for his business, says real estate agent Chris Pike of Mike Falgoust and Associates, who represented Kirk's Tires in the sale. "Kirk's does a lot of business with the industrial contractors in town, so it's a more convenient location for his existing customers," Pike says. "He has owned the real estate for quite a while and this was a way to capitalize on selling the asset and getting a more convenient location." Kirk's will be leasing at its new location, which is scheduled to open some time in November. Brewster Holdings' plans for the space at 9555 Airline Highway are unclear, and Pike declines to comment. According to the Louisiana Secretary of State's website, Brewster Holdings Baton Rouge is owned by Robert and Billie Comeaux of Covington, who own the American Factory Direct Furniture Outlets chain. The company currently has a Baton Rouge store at the Mall of Louisiana. —Stephanie Riegel

Publisher: Constitutional amendment No. 2 a step in wrong direction

The Louisiana Hospital Association released a report last week touting the $30 billion impact hospitals have on our state's economy. In his latest column, Business Report Publisher Rolfe McCollister says he doesn't know that anyone would argue with the important role hospitals play in our state. "But this report and the TV commercials to follow are intended to help pass a constitutional amendment to dedicate and protect funding in the budget for hospitals from any cuts once the budget is passed," McCollister writes. "On the surface that sounds reasonable—protect health care. But the fact is, Louisiana has dedicated most of its budget, and only health care and higher education were open to cuts." This has long been an issue, McCollister notes, saying that hospitals and universities were in the same boat asking in unison that the dedications be reduced to provide more flexibility and options for shared cuts in times of lower revenues. "That should have happened, but everyone who has a dedication fights to keep it—and leaves health care and higher ed hanging out there alone and vulnerable," McCollister writes. "Now, it seems, hospitals have decided, if you can't beat them, join them. Constitutional Amendment No. 2 would protect their funding and leave our colleges and universities standing alone to fend for themselves." The campaign is pitting former allies against one another on the Nov. 4 ballot, McCollister says, and as a member of the LSU Board of Supervisors—which is in partnership with many hospitals and trains future doctors for all Louisiana hospitals—McCollister says he is in "a very awkward position." Still, he says the amendment does not solve the root problem and only makes it worse. He recommends a vote against No. 2 (and Amendment No. 1 as well, which dedicates funding to nursing homes). Read the full column. Send your comments to editors@businessreport.com.

Pro-charter group ranks La. charter movement second best in US

The growth, quality and innovation of Louisiana's public charter school movement is second best in the nation and trails only Washington, D.C., according to a new ranking of charter movements in 25 states and the nation's capital by a pro-charter group. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which is based in Washington, D.C., says Louisiana got the No. 2 ranking in its first ever state-by-state analysis for a variety of reasons. "Louisiana's public charter schools served a higher percentage of free and reduced-price lunch students when compared with traditional public schools in 2010-11 (16 percentage points more)," the alliance notes. Additionally, it points out that 97% of the state's charters were located in non-suburban areas, as compared to 81% of traditional public schools during the 2010-11 school year. Also, an average of 27% of the state's charters reported using one of six innovative practices—which include extended day, extended year, year-round calendar, independent study, school-to-work and higher education courses—tracked by the alliance. Each state is given a composite score in the report, called "The Health of the Public Charter Movement: A State-by-State Analysis," with the highest possible score being 116. Washington, D.C., received a top score of 104, followed by Louisiana at 85, Michigan at 84, New Jersey at 76 and New York at 75. Nevada received the lowest score, at 32. See the complete report. —Steve Sanoski

'225 Weekender': Guts and Glory returns to Angola

One of fall's main attractions in south Louisiana, the Angola Prison Rodeo, returns every Sunday in October. As 225 Weekender reports, the rodeo got its start back in 1965 with a handful of rodeo-loving inmates. It was opened up to the public on a limited basis two years later, and it has steadily grown ever since. Today, the rodeo's 7,500-seat stadium is routinely sold out every weekend. During the rodeo, riders compete bareback, in wild horse races and more. The rodeo also includes what is arguably the most interesting arts and crafts show around, at which rodeo attendees can barter with inmates for wares they've made inside one of the nation's most notorious prisons. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online. Gates open at 9 a.m. each Sunday. The rodeo begins at 2 p.m. Learn about more events taking place in the Baton Rouge area this weekend in the new 225 Weekender e-newsletter.

Today's poll question: The Angola Prison Rodeo returns again with events every Sunday in October. How do you feel about the rodeo?

Battle brewing within GOP over whether to pursue tax reform

Facing the prospect of a fully Republican Congress for the first time in eight years, GOP strategists are divided over how to advance a central tenet of their political agenda: a simpler U.S. tax code with sharply lower rates. The Washington Post reports that in the House, Republicans weary of jousting with President Barack Obama over sweeping tax and budget issues say they have little hope of suddenly finding consensus in the waning days of his administration. Better, they argue, to focus on smaller targets, such as approving the Keystone XL Pipeline and rolling back broadly unpopular pieces of the Affordable Care Act, such as a tax on medical devices and cuts to Medicare Advantage. In the Senate, however, aides and advisers say a newly elected Republican majority may be more inclined to aim for much bigger prizes. Among the prime options: a far-reaching tax code rewrite—if not for individuals, then at least for U.S. businesses, which currently labor under the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world. Such ambitions would depend heavily on Obama, Republicans say; they would go nowhere unless the president, too, were determined to cut a deal. The White House has long called for lower taxes on business, a call that has become more urgent this year as a steady stream of firms has fled overseas. With another deadline looming next spring to lift limits on federal borrowing, some GOP strategists see a faint path to significant legislation that would raise the debt ceiling through Obama's presidency, cut taxes and let all sides claim victory. Read the full story.

Crude oil prices continue to decline, dropping to lowest levels since 2012

Crude oil prices accelerated their decline this morning, with the main international benchmark falling about 2% and the American equivalent dropping below $90 a barrel. Now at their lowest levels since 2012, crude prices have been under pressure in recent months. The New York Times reports the increase in global demand for oil this year is turning out to be slower because of weaker-than-anticipated growth in China and Europe, while oil supplies remain strong, leading to growing inventories. But the sudden drop today was seen as a response to Saudi Arabia's signaling to the markets on Wednesday that it was more interested in maintaining market share than in defending prices. Saudi Aramco, the national oil company, stunned markets by announcing that it was cutting prices by about $1 a barrel to Asia, the crucial growth market for the Gulf producers, as well as by 40 cents a barrel to the United States. With oil prices already under pressure, "there has been a widespread perception or hope that the Saudis would pull back on production," says Richard Mallinson, an analyst at Energy Aspects, a research firm based in London. Instead, the Saudis are "pricing aggressively to retain buyers," potentially at the expense of OPEC rivals like Iran and Iraq, he says. Brent crude, the main international benchmark, was trading around $92 a barrel this morning. West Texas Intermediate, its American counterpart, was around $88.60 a barrel, dropping below $90 for the first time since April 2013. Read the full story.

News roundup: Offshore drilling permit reviews are inconsistent, audit says … Government says improvements coming to new website disclosing doctor payments … US weekly jobless claims trending at 2006 levels

Upon closer review: The federal agency in charge of regulating offshore drilling doesn't have standardized procedures for reviewing permits and has not finished establishing an electronic program designed to streamline the process, according to a government report issued today. As FuelFix.com reports, the report from the inspector general for the Department of the Interior gives the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement credit for making some big changes since the 2010 blowout of BP's Macondo well in the Gulf, but says more work is needed on permitting. Read the full story.

In the details: Although it's called "Open Payments," the government's new website doesn't make it easy to find out whether your doctor is getting freebies, travel or other financial benefits from drug companies and medical device manufacturers. The Associated Press reports there is one obvious clue: The website lacks a "Find Your Doctor" button. The Obama administration says consumers will start seeing some improvements later this month, particularly when it comes to navigation. However, an AP analysis finds significant problems, including large chunks of missing information and disputed data, and it reports those are not likely to be cleared up soon. Read the full story.

Coming back around again: First-time claims for unemployment benefits fell further last week as the number of newly jobless Americans seeking aid remained near pre-recession levels, the Labor Department says in a report issued this morning. USA Today reports it's a good sign for the job market, and the declining trend may signal improving hiring conditions. The Labor Department will issue its September employment report on Friday morning. Seasonally adjusted initial claims for jobless benefits in the week ending Saturday were 287,000, down from the previous week's revised total of 295,000. Read the full story.

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