Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Wed, October 29, 2014

Moret defends LED interpretation of La. economic performance data that Albrecht says is inflated

Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret is defending an often-underscored LED claim that Louisiana has outperformed its Southern neighbors and the United States at large when it comes to employment growth since 2008. Greg Albrecht, chief economist for the Louisiana Legislative Fiscal Office, earlier this week called out LED on the claim, saying in a paper published on the office's website that LED has misinterpreted federal data.

"Mr. Albrecht is cherry picking the numbers," says Moret in a statement to Daily Report. "His approach would be like going to the Ole Miss game and saying LSU lost the game because Ole Miss won part of the game. Most people would consider the win/loss record to be based on the whole football game, not just part of the game."

In his paper, Albrecht says LED's claims are skewed because it benchmarks gains in employment to January 2008, which is the month that Gov. Bobby Jindal began his tenure in office. Albrecht notes that as the recession took hold during 2008 and 2009, Louisiana employment dropped only about half as much as that of the average Southern state and the nation as a whole. Therefore, he says, Louisiana was "much more likely to achieve and exceed the January 2008 starting point" before its peers in the South and across the country.

"The LED misinterpretation can be summed up by saying that if a region drops by only half as much as other regions, then recovers at the same pace as other regions, it will climb back to its starting point in half the time as other regions," Albrecht writes. "Arithmetically, no other result can occur, and says nothing about the state's relative economic performance."

Albrecht says if LED chose to benchmark its data to February 2010, when most other states and the United States had begun to recover from the lowest points of the recession, the data would show Louisiana "has substantially underperformed" in comparison to its peers. Moret flatly disagrees.

"Many of the states Mr. Albrecht is suggesting have economically outperformed Louisiana actually have less jobs today than they had in January 2008," Moret says. "It makes no sense to suggest such states have outperformed Louisiana during this administration's time in office."

See Albrecht's complete paper, and check out Moret's complete statement in response. —Steve Sanoski

Registrar, St. George proponents working to identify boundaries of proposed city

Before the East Baton Rouge Parish Registrar of Voters office can even begin verifying signatures on the city of St. George incorporation petition, it must first resolve discrepancies over the boundaries of precincts that are only partially in the proposed new city.

Registrar Elaine Lamb says the boundaries of St. George includes several "part precincts" or split precincts that are only partially located in the proposed new city.

"We need to know from them what is in St. George and what is not," Lamb says. "Some are going to be in and some are going to be out."

St. George spokesman Lionel Rainey III says his group is working with the registrar's office to identify the split precincts and clear up the matter. It will be several weeks, however, before issues with the St. George petition will be resolved. Lamb says her office won't even start working on the petition and trying to validate its more than 17,000 signatures until after Tuesday's election.

"We haven't really found any problems yet with the petition because we haven't fooled with it," she says.

City-parish officials, meanwhile, say they have not filed suit to challenge the petition, as had been expected. Interim Parish Attorney Lea Anne Batson says no suit has been filed, adding the city "has no immediate plans to file one."

Last week, attorney Mary Olive Pierson, who has represented the city-parish in a lawsuit regarding properties recently annexed into the city of Baton Rouge, said she would legally challenge the incorporation petition, either on behalf of the city-parish or as a private citizen. She was not available for comment as of this afternoon's deadline. —Stephanie Riegel

Land acquisition for LSU South Campus expansion completed

The transfer of property from the LSU Property Foundation to the flagship university for the expansion of the South Campus has been completed. According to records filed with the East Baton Rouge Clerk of Court on Tuesday, the LSU Board of Supervisors bought the remaining 20 acres fronting Nicholson Drive for slightly more than $2 million from the foundation.

The foundation handles all of the university's property transactions, LSU Media Relations Director Ernie Ballard says. It buys property first, then is reimbursed by the LSU board later.

LSU does not initially buy property outright because it needs approval from the state Legislature, Ballard says, and that process is handicapped when lawmakers are not in session. As an entity that's completely separate from LSU, the foundation can buy property and recoup costs afterward.

"The foundation can buy the property and serve as the bank for us," Ballard says.

The university is using $2 million from the state and $25,084 in private funds from the LSU Foundation to pay for the new tract. The new acreage is in addition to a bit less than 79 acres LSU has purchased from the foundation since 2011, completing a roughly 99-acre expansion that has been in the works since 2005.

Ballard says the 20.05-acre tract is currently undeveloped. According to the South Campus Master Plan, the new land will be used for classroom, lab and research buildings, as well as a Traditional Neighborhood District. Building design will mimic the architecture at the main campus. Part of the South Campus' mission is to expand the university's research capabilities. —Kelly Connelly

Lineup of TEDxLSU speakers revealed for third annual event

The lineup of speakers for the third annual TEDxLSU event, scheduled to take place on the LSU campus in February, was released today. With this year's theme being "connect," the speakers will address topics of connectivity in areas from science and medicine to social networks, arts and culture.

The speakers announced today are: Cole Wiley, artist and software developer; Brian Wolshon, traffic and transportation engineer; John Besh, chef and cultural preservationist; Rashaud Red, teen change agent; Michael Hatfield, host of MonkeyBR trivia; Owen Carmichael, director of imaging at Pennington Biomedical Research Center; Prosanta Chakrabarty, ichthyologist and natural historian; Maxine Crump, humanitarian; Tracey Rizzuto, psychologist and BRAVE researcher; John Gray, musician; Kurt Ristroph, collegiate information access specialist; and Karen McKee, ecologist and coastline expert.

Tickets for the TEDxLSU event, which is scheduled to take place Saturday, Feb. 28, will go on sale in January. The event will be held at Shaver Theater, located in the Music & Dramatic Arts Building on Dalrymple Drive.

Modeled after the popular TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conferences held twice annually, TEDx events are independent and self-organized around the country and globe, with all of them focused on "ideas worth spreading." At the events, speakers are encouraged to give the "talks of their lives" on a variety of topics. —Steve Sanoski

Ruling expected Friday in charter schools lawsuit

A state district judge says he will rule Friday on whether he'll issue a preliminary injunction to keep some charter schools from receiving $60 million under Louisiana's public school financing formula.

As The Associated Press reports, Judge Wilson Fields heard testimony and arguments today in the case and said he would take two days before announcing his decision. At issue is the money steered to 33 charter schools authorized by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The Louisiana Association of Educators union claims in a lawsuit that the spending violates the state constitution because those charter schools are created and operated outside of parish and city school systems. Supporters say the schools offer more educational opportunities to students. Public school systems say charters take needed money away from their schools.

US oil output surges to highest level since 1980s on shale boom

U.S. crude production climbed to its highest level in at least three decades last week as the shale boom moved the country closer to energy independence.

Bloomberg reports output rose 0.4% to 8.97 million barrels a day, according to weekly Energy Information Administration estimates that began in January 1983. The EIA's monthly data, which goes back to 1920 and is based on data collected by state and federal agencies, shows production at the highest since 1986.

The combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has unlocked supplies from shale formations in the central United States, including the Bakken in North Dakota and the Eagle Ford in Texas. The surge in production has helped push oil prices down 16% this year to a two-year low on Oct. 27.

The higher output is filling storage tanks across the country. U.S. inventories climbed by 2.06 million barrels to 379.7 million barrels in the week ended Oct. 24, according to the EIA report. Crude imports dropped 5% last week to 7.1 million barrels a day, down 4.8% from a year earlier.

U.S. crude production will grow by a million barrels a day this year and next to reach 9.5 million in 2015, the most since 1970, the EIA says in its monthly Short-Term Energy Outlook on Oct. 7. Read the full story.

News roundup: Water Institute scientists leading research effort in Mekong Delta … Federal grant funds to benefit construction industry training in NOLA, BR … Report faults Red Cross response to Isaac, Sandy

Making waves: The Water Institute of the Gulf says it is expanding its research beyond its initial Gulf Coast focus. The institute announced today that Mead Allison, director of physical processes and sediment systems, and Ehab Meselhe, director of natural systems modeling, are collaborating as co-investigators on a project in the Mekong Delta in southwest Vietnam as part of the "Tropical Deltas Directed Research Initiative" of the Office of Naval Research. The pair traveled to Vietnam to conduct research between Sept. 20 and Oct. 5. The institute has more details on the research project and how the findings will be used.

Building it up: The New Orleans-based Good Work Network is one of three organizations across the country that is receiving grant funds from the U.S. Small Business Administration to provide tailored training to construction industry firms that participate in the SBA 8(a) business development program for small and disadvantaged businesses. SBA says the funding will pay for 33 training sessions to an average of 20 firms in the greater New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas. SBA has more details on the grant awards.

Taking aim: The American Red Cross mishandled its responses to Hurricane Isaac and Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and often seemed more focused on public relations than on helping storm victims, according to a report from investigative journalism nonprofit ProPublica and NPR published today, the second anniversary of Sandy. American Red Cross spokeswoman Anne Marie Borrego says in an email to The Associated Press that the organization disputes many of the allegations in the story. She calls it "distorted and inaccurate." The report cites internal documents and interviews with current and former Red Cross staffers who said the organization repeatedly failed to get relief supplies to people who needed them. Read the full story.
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