News alert: La. tax amnesty collections total $435 million
Louisiana's tax amnesty program brought in a total of $435 million, the Louisiana Department of Revenue has just announced. The final figure is more than double the $200 million that lawmakers had hoped to bring in through the program. LDR Secretary Tim Barfield announced late last month that the $200 million goal had been met, adding that he expected the total to be much higher. "Taxpayers responded enthusiastically to the opportunity to fulfill their obligations and settle their accounts with the state," Barfield says in a prepared statement. "We believe we have received the overwhelming majority of applications, and we continue to process those applications that were submitted by the deadline to ensure compliance with the amnesty eligibility requirements." Of the $435 million collected, approximately $369 million came from accounts under audit and litigation, which generally are contested matters involving businesses. Another $66 million came from delinquent tax collections generally involving individuals. Amnesty collections include $67 million paid using transferable tax credits. LDR estimates the cost of administering the amnesty program, including its share of outside legal fees, is approximately $14 million. And, as provided under the amnesty statute, LDR will retain about $64 million to replace penalties and fees waived under the program. The tax amnesty program allowed eligible taxpayers to pay delinquent taxes with a waiver of all penalties and 50% of the interest due. —Staff report
Proposed residency ordinance wouldn't apply to mayor, council
The Parish Attorney's Office says a proposed ordinance that would impose residency requirements on city-parish employees would not apply to the mayor or members of the Metro Council. In the latest salvo in the battle over a proposed breakaway municipality, five council members Wednesday introduced an ordinance that would require all new hires in the city-parish to live inside the city limits or in the unincorporated East Baton Rouge Parish—meaning those from Baker, Central, Zachary or the proposed city of St. George would be excluded from consideration. In an email sent earlier today to First Assistant Parish Attorney Lea Anne Batson, Councilman Buddy Amoroso questions whether the proposed ordinance would affect council members and the mayor. In her response, Batson says the Plan of Government provides that members of the Council must be qualified voters and residents of the parish and their respective districts. It also provides "that the Mayor must be a qualified voter and resident of the Parish. The Council cannot, by ordinance, change that," reads Batson’s email. Amoroso says he is not surprised by the opinion and it only supports his contention that "the proposed ordinance is insane … this whole thing is insanity." Councilman John Delgado has also questioned the constitutionality of the proposed ordinance, saying he believes it is "an impermissible interference with the operation of the plan of government." Both Amoroso and Delgado represent districts that would—at least partially—be included in St. George if the incorporation effort is successful. The ordinance is set to come before the council for discussion at its Jan. 8 meeting. —Stephanie Riegel
Few turn out for meeting on EBR planning director search
Turnout for this afternoon's public hearing on the selection process for the city-parish's next planning director was slim, but a few community leaders showed up to contribute to the discussion, including CPEX President and CEO Elizabeth "Boo" Thomas, DDD Executive Director Davis Rhorer and East Baton Rouge Parish Historic Preservation Commission member Bill Huey. Thomas emphasized the need for a visionary and courageous leader "that has a wonderful presence, that is willing to negotiate with everybody to understand what the real issues are, but then to be courageous enough to make the tough decisions." She also implored the selection committee to choose a planning director that has the highest integrity and sense of fairness. Huey, meanwhile, commented on the qualifications matrix, which was created by Planning Commission member James Gilmore. The matrix considers a candidate's planning certification, bachelor degree, masters degree, and years of experience. "I want to remind the search committee to question candidates closely about experience with and attitude toward historic preservation," Huey said. But Councilwoman Wicker reminded everyone that the ultimate goal of the selection committee is to remain open and flexible. Although the selection committee has received applications and resumes from some 90 candidates, none were presented at the meeting. "I had hoped we would actually see resumťs today to get an idea of the qualifications of the candidates that have applied," Thomas told Daily Report. "I don't think that's going to happen." The meeting was still taking place as of 3:25 p.m., with about 15 people in attendance. —Rachel Alexander
Townhome component scrapped for The Oasis
Developer Chris Shaheen is scrapping his plans to build townhomes as part of The Oasis, a recreational-retail-entertainment complex he plans to develop on 6.3 acres at Burbank Avenue and South Kenilworth. In revised plans submitted today to the Planning Commission, Shaheen has eliminated the proposed townhomes at The Oasis and reconfigured the space to accommodate a recreational tenant. "I was looking at doing townhomes but had so much interest from other potential retailers I decided that was a better way to go," he says. Specifically, Shaheen is negotiating with an indoor soccer facility that would be adjacent to The Oasis and its five sand volleyball courts, virtual golf machines and 9,000-square-foot deck. If the indoor soccer deal falls through, Shaheen says he has another potential tenant in the wings. Shaheen also tells Daily Report he is negotiating with a well-known local restaurant to operate the sports bar at The Oasis. "They are working on a new concept and are trying to come up with a new name so we are not ready, yet, to disclose it," he says. Shaheen hopes to begin construction on The Oasis by March and to be open by late 2014. —Stephanie Riegel
La. rises to No. 21 in ranking of entrepreneur-friendly states
Louisiana has risen four spots to No. 21 on this year's ranking of the most entrepreneurial-friendly states by the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, which released its 18th annual rankings today. The council says it ranks each state according to 47 different policy measures, including a wide array of tax, regulatory and government spending measurements. Louisiana rose from a No. 25 ranking in last year's report and a No. 26 ranking in 2011. In 2010, Louisiana was No. 27, and the year before that it was ranked No. 29. "The top states on the Small Business Policy Index 2013 are streamlining government and lifting burdens like excessive taxation and regulation," says SBE Council President and CEO Karen Kerrigan in a prepared statement. "They are passing responsible budgets, and living within their means. The worst ranked states keep treating small businesses and entrepreneurs as piggy banks to fund higher spending and bankrupt programs." The top ranked states in this year's report are, from No. 1 to 5: South Dakota, Nevada, Texas, Wyoming and Florida. Read an overview and access the full report.
Also, Gov. Bobby Jindal has posted some additional info on the rankings
at his website. —Staff report
Entrepreneur: Elizabeth Carter
Elizabeth Carter recalls the well-timed encouragement with gratitude. As Business Report
details in its new Entrepreneur feature on Carter, the encouragement came back in 2001 when she was at a pivotal point in her career. After 11 years of doing commercial design projects of increasing complexity in Capital Region architecture firms, Carter had hit what she terms "a glass ceiling." "I felt very frustrated," she says. "I knew that as a female and as a designer [at such firms], I was never going to make what architects made, and I was never going to be given the credibility" her work deserved. She says a trusted colleague, hearing her speak of starting her own business, urged her: "Take a chance. You can do it." Elizabeth Carter Interior Design was launched the same year. Read the full feature.
Visit Baton Rouge board OK's 2014 budget, pay raise for Arrigo
The board of directors overseeing Visit Baton Rouge today OK'd a new budget for the tourism promotion agency, and also approved a new contract and pay raise for VBR President and CEO Paul Arrigo. The agency's spending plan for next year totals $4,118,000. Approximately 99% of the agency's revenue comes from a share of the city's lodging tax on hotels and motels. Revenue next year is expected to be about $390,000 higher than this year, an increase of about 4%. Expenses will rise about $320,000 next year to roughly $4,019,000. Wages and employee benefits account for approximately 43% of VBR's expenses. The board also OK'd today a new contract for Arrigo through next year that includes a pay raise of $4,526, bringing his annual salary to $156,700 for 2014. —Staff report
B.R. releases New Year's Eve song, music video
Mayor Kip Holden joined organizers of the city's first annual New Year's Eve celebration today to release the official "Red Stick Revelry" song and music video, which will air on the beacon in Town Square throughout the holidays. The song, written by Wendell Woods and performed by the band Phat Hat, is the official song for the event, and a portion of its sales on iTunes will go toward funding next year's event, organizers say. "Listen for it on your favorite local radio station, download it on iTunes, or watch it on YouTube," says Holden about the song in a prepared statement. "Wherever you are when you hear it, I think you will have a great feeling about celebrating the New Year in Baton Rouge." Holden also announced today that WAFB-TV will broadcast the Red Stick drop at Town Square live with a special half-hour program airing from 11:40 p.m. until 12:10 a.m. on New Year's Eve. Check out the video.
News roundup: Ex-BP engineer isn't expected to testify at trial … DHH rebuilding its audit office after 2-year gap … Mexican Congress opens oil industry to private investors in historic energy bill
Not taking the stand:
A former BP drilling engineer isn't expected to testify at his trial on charges he deleted text messages about the company's response to its massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, The Associated Press reports. According to a trial transcript, a lawyer for Kurt Mix told a judge and prosecutor that her client isn't one of three witnesses whom defense attorneys plan to call to testify once they begin presenting their case on Friday. Justice Department prosecutors called their final witness on Wednesday. Jurors are expected to hear closing arguments from the attorneys on Monday before they start deliberating. Mix pleaded not guilty to charges he deliberately deleted text messages to and from a supervisor and a BP contractor to stymie a grand jury's probe of the spill.Better and better:
The state health department says it is bolstering its efforts to review spending and fight fraud after going without its own auditor for more than two years. The Department of Health and Hospitals has hired a new chief compliance officer, William Root, to oversee audit efforts, track the appropriateness of Medicaid spending and identify potential fraud. DHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert says that Root has built a three-person staff, and is combing through the offices in DHH. The health department is the largest state government department, overseeing $9 billion in spending. In recent years, Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera's Office has documented fraud and improperly-paid claims for services at DHH, repeatedly citing the lack of an internal audit division as a problem. Purpera tells The Associated Press he's encouraged that DHH is rebuilding its internal auditing.Dawn of a new era:
Mexico's Congress voted today to open the country's moribund state-run oil industry to private investment after a raucous, overnight debate over the most dramatic energy reform in decades. The 353-134 vote in the lower house all but guarantees that President Enrique Pena Nieto will achieve the crowning piece of his first-year reform package, allowing the government to grant contracts and licenses to private companies to explore and drill for oil and gas. His other reforms have dealt with areas including education, taxes and telecommunications. Such oil contracts and licenses are currently prohibited under Mexico's constitution. The state-run oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, has had a monopoly since the sector was nationalized in 1938, and the country's oil has been seen as a symbol of sovereignty ever since. The bill now has to be approved by the legislatures of 17 of Mexico's 31 states. Foreign energy companies got their noses under the tent in the last few years when Mexico allowed them to build, own and operate long-haul natural gas transmission facilities. The Associated Press has the full story.