Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Thu, April 24, 2014

Capitol Views: St. George transition bill put on hold

In what may have been viewed as putting the cart before the horse, a lawmaker attempted to move forward with legislation to ease the incorporation of the proposed city of St. George before voters have even weighed in on the matter, causing local officials to express concern this morning. Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, said he held off on presenting his SB 638 after concerns were raised by Baton Rouge Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel. The proposal would create the St. George Transition District. Daniel and White are looking for a precedent before advancing with the legislation, with the incorporation of Central, the product of a 2005 vote, serving as the model. "There were some questions of when this kind of district was created with Central and if it was negotiated before the vote or after," White said, adding that a private meeting had been scheduled for Friday to discuss the issue. The Senate Committee on Local and Municipal Affairs is expected to possibly pick the bill back up again next week. As currently drafted, the St. George Transition District would offer a way for services to continue and sales taxes to be collected in the interim between a vote of the people and the new city coming online, should the tally break that way. Those involved with the incorporation effort say they're hopeful that they'll have enough signatures to appear on the November ballot.

—Facing mounting opposition, a lawmaker crawfished on his bill today to yank Ascension Parish from the Greater Baton Rouge Port Commission and place it in the Port of South Louisiana. Sen. Troy Brown, D-Napoleonville, decided instead to take every word out of his SB 280 and replace it with an entirely different measure that would allow the Port of South Louisiana to offer 80-year leases to prospects, rather than the 40-year stretch permitted under current law. Brown told the Senate Committee on Transportation, Highways and Public Works that the port in LaPlace has a company that wants to invest $100 million in the area but needs more time to recoup the commitment they're willing to make.

—By a vote of 87-0 today, the full House advanced HB 1151 by Rep. Erich Ponti, R-Baton Rouge, which would allow city judges to be elected at-large as a federal court decides what to do about a lawsuit regarding voting rights and the current election format. The current City Court lines were created 21 years ago when the gap between white and black voters was significantly larger. The reapportionment bill now heads to the Senate. Rep. Alfred Williams, D-Baton Rouge, had an alternative proposal with his HB 198 to create two white judgeships and three for black judges, but it failed to get out of committee last week.

—The Senate Committee on Local and Municipal Affairs also approved two other local bills this morning without objection. HB 951 by Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, allows for the formation of the University Acres Crime Prevention and Neighborhood Improvement District. It calls for a 15-year fee schedule beginning with an initial parcel fee for the first calendar year of $365, not to exceed $500 in subsequent years. HB 581 by Rep. Kenny Havard, R-Jackson, would allow voters in the city of Zachary to decide whether to implement a new hotel occupancy tax of no more than 5%. Proceeds would be used for the Zachary Youth Park and "other recreational opportunities," according to the bill.

(John Maginnis and Jeremy Alford will publish Capitol Views each afternoon on Daily Report PM through the end of the legislative session. The report is also available to subscribers at LaPolitics.com. Registration is available on the homepage.)

Louisiana Public Broadcasting is providing a daily video update featuring highlights of the session, which you can see beginning at 6 p.m. here.

CATS, DDD working out solutions to downtown bus congestion

CATS will temporarily move its new downtown hub at North Boulevard Town Square to the nearby riverfront on days when the Town Square is closed or in use for events—a short-term solution designed to mitigate congestion that has been developing around Town Square since CATS implemented its new route and hub system a month ago. CATS CEO Bob Mirabito and DDD Executive Director Davis Rhorer met earlier today to discuss possible solutions. Both say relocating the hub to the riverfront on days when Town Square is closed for events makes sense. "Town Square can accommodate two buses," says Rhorer. "On the riverfront you can accommodate five." The buses will have to share space with tour buses at the site, which is located by a kiosk the DDD is sprucing up with new signs and maps, but Rhorer says that should not be a problem. On days when Town Square is in use as a hub, CATS is hoping to lessen congestion by staging the business in front of the Old State Capitol on North Boulevard and also by rerouting buses arriving from the east to come down Convention Street, instead of North Boulevard. "They were coming down North Boulevard from the east and then they would stack up," Mirabito says. "Now, they are coming down Convention, turning left on River Road and coming up North." More than 250 buses pass through the hub every day. Both CATS and DDD are looking for a long-term solution, but so far Mirabito cannot speculate as to what that will be. "Right now it's all blue sky," he says. —Stephanie Riegel

Belle of BR bucks losing streak by riverboat casinos in March

Of Baton Rouge's three riverboat casinos, The Belle of Baton Rouge was the only one to see its winnings rise in March, compared to the same month a year ago. Even more impressive, the Belle was the only riverboat casino in the state to post a year-over-year increase in March, according to figures released today. The Belle won $5.9 million last month, or 4.2% more than it won in March last year. Hollywood Casino, meanwhile, won $6.8 million, a decrease of 15%; and L'Auberge Casino won $13.2 million, a drop of 12.3%. The three casinos collectively won just shy of $26 million, which was 3.3% better than the entire market take in February, but a decline of nearly 10% compared to the collective take in March a year ago. The Belle reported having about 76,350 gamers visit its casino last month, while Hollywood saw about 72,400 and L'Auberge roughly 134,000. Access the complete March reports from the Louisaina Gaming Control Board. —Staff report

BR metro personal income growth outpaces US average in 2012

The Baton Rouge metro area saw its real personal income rise by roughly 5% in 2012, compared to the year previous, according to new figures on state and metro area GDP and income for the years 2008 through 2012 released today by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The local increase was more than twice the 2.3% rise in real personal income seen across the U.S., on average, between 2011 and 2011. Odessa, Texas, posted the largest increase in personal income of any metro area in the country between 2011 and 2012, at 10.2%; while the Kennewick-Richland-Pasco, Wash., metro area saw the biggest annual decline, at 3.8%. The Baton Rouge gross domestic product, meanwhile, rose 2.89% in 2012 across all industries, compared to the 2011 GDP, with private industries in the metro area posting a 3.61% rise over the same time frame. Statewide, Louisiana's GDP increased by 2.3% between 2011 and 2012, while its real personal income rose roughly 2%. Access the complete report. —Staff report

La. senators kill minimum wage hike proposal

Senators have rejected a proposal that could have increased the minimum wage in Louisiana, a vote that's expected to shelve the debate for the legislative session. The Associated Press reports the Senate Labor Committee killed the bill by Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, without objection today. The House Labor Committee earlier rejected a proposal to raise the minimum wage above the federal hourly rate of $7.25. Under Nevers' proposal, voters in a statewide election would have decided whether to require businesses to pay at least $9.50 an hour. Supporters say a wage increase would help the working poor in a state known for its poverty. Business organizations were among those who opposed the proposal, saying it would lead to job losses and higher prices for goods and services.

US manufacturers see better times for economy, jobs

Companies are finally starting to spend some of the cash they've been sitting on, and that could mean a stronger economy and more jobs on the way. The Commerce Department reports today that demand for core capital goods, considered a good guide for business investment plans, rose 2.2% in March after a 1.1% drop in February. It was the best showing since November. Meanwhile, The Associated Press reports industrial companies such as General Electric, Honeywell and Caterpillar have been posting strong financial results in recent weeks and telling investors that orders are strong. That means other large companies are investing in expensive equipment they need to grow their business, economists say. "We're on the brink of that inflection point where the economy can really take off," says Diane Jaffee, a portfolio manager and managing director at the Trust Company of the West. "What's different now is that the industrial companies are saying there is real demand." In the years since the Great Recession, big manufacturers have cut costs, slimmed down their operations, and accumulated cash. They've had to because their customers—other big businesses—were too worried about some parts of the global economy to hire people or buy equipment that takes years to pay off. Political wrangling in the U.S. shut down the government and led the country to nearly default on its debt—more than once—even as the U.S. economy was struggling to improve. At the same time, the enormous European economy was mired in a debt crisis and a subsequent recession. Now, finally, the economies of the U.S. and Europe are showing steady progress, and while Chinese growth appears to be slowing, it remains strong. Read the full story.

News roundup: BR businessmen runners up in 2014 La. Small Business Awards … BR firm to represent Generac Industrial Power in La. … Folse and Tramonto expanding Seafood R'evolution concept outside La.

Top honors: A couple of Baton Rouge businessmen are being recognized as runner-up winners in the 2014 Louisiana Small Business Awards, presented by the U.S. Small Business Administration's Louisiana District Office. Mitch Rotolo, founder and CEO of Rotolo's Pizzeria, has been named runner-up Family-Owned Business Champion, and George M. Shaffer, president of Crompion International, has been named runner-up Exporter of the Year. They'll be recognized at a May 14 event in Baton Rouge. See the complete list of winners, which was released today.

All charged up: Baton Rouge-based Arcco Power Systems says it has signed an agreement with a Wisconsin-based generator manufacturer to represent the company and distribute its products in Louisiana. Generac Industrial Power, which designs and manufactures generators for industrial, commercial and residential use, says it expects its distribution agreement with Arcco to help it enter new markets for its high-output diesel standalone and paralleled power systems. Arcco executives Bruce Smith and Paul O'Neill announced the deal today.

Catch of the day: World-renowned chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto are expanding their upscale restaurant concept Seafood R'evolution into Mississippi, the chefs announced today. The two opened the first Seafood R'evolution in the New Orleans Royal Sonesta Hotel in 2012. The Mississippi restaurant will be located in the Renaissance at Colony Park in Ridgeland, where Folse and Tramonto unveiled their plans today alongside Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant. The 10,000-square-foot restaurant is already under construction and is expected to open by mid-September.
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