Alternate freeway study tops Capital Region delegation's priority list
With the legislative session that runs through June 2 set to begin today, the Capital Region Legislative Delegation says its top priority will be to secure funding for various transportation infrastructure and economic development projects. The delegation annually splits its priorities into those valued over $3 million—termed "mega-projects"—and those below that threshold. Topping the mega-projects list—for the second straight year—is $3.5 million to study alternate freeway routes around Baton Rouge. The "interstate-style roadway" system would link interstates 110, 10 and 12, as well as U.S. 190, the delegation says in a release. "The state funding would be leveraged with a match by EBR and WBR parishes, who wholly support the project," reads the release. After an estimated 18 months of study, "it is expected that construction of the project itself would be fully funded by toll revenue," the delegation says. Also on the delegation's priority list for mega projects: $5 million to overlay approximately nine miles of roadway on La. 16; and $4.6 million for environmental planning, engineering and construction for the widening of La. 70/La. 22 in Ascension and St. James parishes. See the delegation's full statement on its session priorities. —Staff report
Briggs expected to testify today in LOGA suit against AG
Louisiana Oil & Gas Association President Don Briggs is scheduled to testify in court today as his organization pursues legal action against Attorney General Buddy Caldwell. As Gannett Louisiana reports, the legal path to the courtroom has been complex—but the debate it sparked is clear: Do environmentalists' lawsuits risk driving oil company work and jobs away from Louisiana? Or is that contention merely a point of view oil company advocates use to exploit Louisianans' fear of unemployment and poverty? LOGA filed suit against Caldwell Dec. 20 after he allowed the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East, a state agency, to retain a private lawyer to sue 97 oil companies for failing to repair damage they allegedly caused to Louisiana's coast and wetlands. Briggs often publicly asserts there are about 400 ongoing frivolous lawsuits filed by environmentalists in Louisiana, but Lafayette's The Advertiser reports LOGA was unable to supply it a list. The LOGA suit states that the levee authority's suit causes "irreparable injury" to LOGA members by deterring oil companies from working in Louisiana because it has become a "legal hellhole" where companies fear being sued by trial lawyers craving big contingency fees. During Briggs' Feb. 20 deposition, Caldwell's attorneys focused on that premise and on Briggs' frequent public assertions that frivolous environmental lawsuits deterred oil companies from doing business in Louisiana. Read the full story.
Editor: St. George opponents hard at work behind the scenes
Since the beginning of the year, the most pressing issue in Baton Rouge has been the effort to incorporate a new city of St. George in the unincorporated southern portion of East Baton Rouge Parish. But despite all the interest and attention, Business Report Editor Stephanie Riegel says, those working to derail the incorporation effort have remained curiously tight-lipped over the past two months. "They won't discuss their strategy. They won't admit to raising money. No one, really, will even explain who or what group of individuals is driving the train of opposition," Riegel writes in her latest column. "From a practical standpoint, that may be wise. St. George supporters thrive on the notion that an insular, downtown elite controls what happens in Baton Rouge. It's better, strategically, for the players in that downtown, elite arena to act as though there's nothing going on and that they are relatively unconcerned about the St. George petition drive." In reality, though, Riegel says, there's plenty of negotiating going on behind the scenes and, of late, the strategy to undermine the incorporation effort has become increasingly apparent. "It involves the city's attempts to annex the Mall of Louisiana, L'Auberge Casino and Perkins Rowe—the three big revenue generators that are outside the city limits and critical to the financial viability of a future St. George, as well as the city of Baton Rouge, for that matter," she says. Read the full column. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
'Toxic mix' of factors put B.R.'s poorest behind peers, 'LA Times' says
For the first in a series of articles examining health care disparities across the nation, The Los Angeles Times spotlights Baton Rouge and St. Paul, Minn., in a new feature detailing the two very different approaches to health care being taken by the two very different cities. The feature focuses on the poorest residents in both cities. Specifically, scenes and patients at the Capitol City Family Health Center on Florida Street are highlighted in Baton Rouge, while 1,200 miles upriver the newspaper visits a waiting room at the Open Cities Health Center, which also "fills daily with the city's poorest." "But the patients in Minnesota receive a very different kind of care, which leads to very different outcomes," reads the feature. "They are more likely to get recommended checkups and cancer screenings. Their doctors rely on sophisticated data to track results." In Minnesota, the article says, poor seniors are half as likely to be prescribed a high-risk drug than they are in Baton Rouge and 38% less likely to go to the emergency room for an ailment that could have been treated in a doctor's office. "Being low income doesn't destine you to poor health care. Where you live matters," says David Radley, a health policy expert. In America's healthiest cities, the article says, more people have health insurance; doctors and hospitals cooperate more closely; and civic and business leaders help drive community efforts to expand access to health care, measure results and improve quality. "Those ingredients are often missing in places such as Baton Rouge, where a poorly organized health system joins poverty, low education and bad diet to form a toxic mix," reads the article. Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center CEO Scott Wester tells the newspaper that lack of insurance "is really the No. 1 driver of our health care challenges" in Louisiana. Read the full feature.
Jindal: Obama's 'weakness' pushing U.S. to 'another generational conflict' with Russia
In a guest column for the National Review Online today, Gov. Bobby Jindal weighs in on the unfolding situation in Ukraine and Russia, and in doing so continues his attacks on President Barack Obama. "Sixty-nine years after the American president traveled to the Crimean peninsula to capitulate to a Russian strongman, Barack Obama's weakness is pushing the United States to another generational conflict with Moscow," reads the opening of Jindal's guest column. The historical reference Jindal makes is to a 1945 visit by President Franklin Roosevelt, who Jindal says erred by believing Joseph Stalin could be "coaxed, instead of confronted, into submission." "Eastern European innocents would pay for that mistake in the cold, dark shadow of totalitarianism for nearly half a century. And Americans paid for it with a multibillion-dollar cold war that strained our budgets, dragged our economy, and posed an ever-present threat to the national psyche," Jindal writes. "President Obama's performance in the current Crimean crisis bears all the marks of that same na´vetÚ. Obama seems to believe or, at a minimum, to hold out hope that multilateral shame can make a tyrant blush." Read the full column.
Landrieu, Cassidy jockey to claim victory on flood insurance as Senate race heats up
Early on, Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu led the charge to delay dramatic increases in the premiums paid by homeowners covered under the federal flood insurance program. While Landrieu, a lead sponsor of the proposal, held the microphone at one news conference after another on the issue, Rep. Bill Cassidy, the leading Republican running for her seat, stood quietly to the side at one of those conferences and listened. That changed late last week, Gannett Louisiana reports, when Cassidy took the microphone at a news conference to celebrate a vote approving the House version of the flood insurance measure—a version he helped craft. With a bill possibly just days from final enactment—the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on the House bill this week—Landrieu and Cassidy are jockeying to claim credit for its success during one of the most competitive Senate races in the country. "It might have a positive effect on both candidates by raising their favorables," says Pearson Cross, head of the political science department at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. "This is just one of those issues where it's a Louisiana issue. To veer away from what is in the interest of Louisiana households would just be suicide. And neither one of these experienced politicians is making that mistake." Read the full story.
News roundup: 'Deep chill' between Jindal, Christie reportedly on display at CPAC … 'WSJ' spotlights Popeyes CEO … Global debt exceeds $100 trillion as governments binge
Frienemies? According to CNN, Bobby Jindal and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie—both of whom are widely considered to be likely candidates for the White House in 2016—continued to keep their distance from one another at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference. "I''m told that these two didn't even cross paths backstage, there was no time set up to meet—even say hello in this green room where all these stars were crossing paths," says CNN's Peter Hamby. "Jindal spoke right after Chris Christie, and they didn't even talk afterward."
Getting things cooking: A new Q&A feature with Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen Inc. CEO Cheryl Bachelder by The Wall Street Journal focuses on the role the former executive at Domino's Pizza Inc. and Yum Brands Inc. has played in helping Popeyes expand throughout the world during the recession. The chain now has 1,600 restaurants in the U.S. and has exported its Louisiana-style menu overseas, with 400 restaurants in Korea, Canada, Turkey and elsewhere. And the turnaround has resulted in a 190% gain in the share price since Bachelder took the helm in 2007. Read the full feature.
World of owe: The amount of debt globally has soared more than 40% to $100 trillion since the first signs of the financial crisis as governments borrowed to pull their economies out of recession and companies took advantage of record low interest rates. The $30 trillion increase from $70 trillion between mid-2007 and mid-2013 compares with a $3.86 trillion decline in the value of equities to $53.8 trillion, according to the Bank for International Settlements and data compiled by Bloomberg. Read the full story.
Today's poll question: What do you think is the most important issue that lawmakers will take up in the 2014 Legislative Session?