This Morning's Headlines / Mon, December 09, 2013
VBR board to take up 2014 budget, CEO’s contract Wednesday
The Visit Baton Rouge board of directors will take up its 2014 proposed budget on Wednesday. The board will also consider giving VBR CEO Paul Arrigo a pay raise. The 2014 budget recommended by the VBR Finance Committee on Thursday projects total revenue of $4,118,000 next year, 99% of which comes from a share of tax revenue from the city’s lodging tax on hotels and motels. Revenue next year is expected to be about $390,000 higher than this year. Expenses will rise about $320,000 in the proposed budget to about $4,019,000. Wages and employee benefits account for approximately 43% of the tourism promotion organization’s total expenditures. The VBR board will consider increasing Arrigo’s pay by $4,526 for 2014, which would bring his annual salary to $156,700. The VBR Personnel Committee recommended approving the pay raise last week. Arrigo recieved a $2,000 pay raise last year, as well as a one-time bonus of $15,017.40. The proposed CEO contract for next year will also increase VBR’s expectations of Arrigo. The bureau’s goal for hotel room nights booked this year was 98,000, but it will be raised to 103,000 in the 2014 proposed contract. The tax revenue goal would increase as well, from $3.725 million this year to $4.118 million in 2014. Wednesday’s board meeting will take place at VBR’s downtown offices, 359 Third St., beginning at noon. —Staff report
Baton Rouge gas prices down 2 cents on the week
The price of a gallon of regular unleaded gas fell 2 cents a gallon in Baton Rouge over the past week, settling at an average of $3.10 a gallon as of this morning, according to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report. Though modest, the decline put an end to three straight weeks of increases to the local average, which remains 16 cents below the national average—unchanged at $3.26 a gallon on the week. The Louisiana average of $3.12—also down two cents on the week—is lower than the average in 33 other states. Fourteen states have a lower average, and two are seeing the same average price. Three states currently have an average below $3 a gallon—Missouri is the lowest in the nation at $2.91—while Hawaii has the highest average in the U.S, $3.93. The average price in Baton Rouge this morning is 3 cents a gallon lower than it was one year ago. —Staff report
Four La. Supreme Court justices to speak in B.R. this week
Four judges from the state’s highest court will discuss important cases from the past year and preview some of the more interesting upcoming cases at a luncheon in Baton Rouge on Wednesday. Hosted by the Baton Rouge Federalist Society Chapter, the Louisiana Supreme Court justices confirmed for the panel discussion are Jeff Hughes, Jeff Victory, Marcus Clark and Greg Guidry. The luncheon will be at Galatoire’s, 3535 Perkins Road, from noon to 1:30 p.m. A limited number of tickets are available at $25 for Federalist Society members and $30 for guests. Get tickets.
Money runs low for Louisiana universities
If some of the millions of dollars that Louisiana’s colleges and universities need to balance their budgets don’t start coming in faster or other steps are taken to shore up budgets, state schools could run out of money by the end of this month. That’s the situation Robbie Robinson, vice president for business and finance for the University of Louisiana System, recently presented to the ULS Board of Supervisors. As The Advertiser reports, much of higher education’s budget counts on one-time revenues from several sources, including rental payments from private hospitals that took over state facilities and cash from legal settlements. This money—and more taken from a number of other funds—goes into what’s known as the Over-collections Fund. Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols says she believes there’s nothing to worry about because sufficient funds are expected to take care of the problem. “We are confident revenues will be collected as expected this year also and do not foresee changes to the higher education budget,” she says. But until the revenues flow in faster, other steps would have to be taken for universities to maintain cash flow, Robinson says. Campuses in the UL System are counting on $94.5 million from the fund. Only $8.2 million could be drawn down for use in the first three months of the fiscal year, July through September, and a total of $16.4 million has been utilized to date. The UL System quarterly report shows state general fund revenue down $12.2 million, or 17%, from a year ago but self-generated revenue from tuition and fees up $12 million, or 5.4%. Read the full story.
Survey gives glimpse of the ‘new rich’ in U.S.
Approximately 20% of U.S. adults become rich for parts of their lives, wielding outsize influence on America's economy and politics, according to new survey data provided to The Associated Press. This little-known group may pose the biggest barrier to reducing the nation's income inequality, the AP reports. The growing numbers of the U.S. poor have been well-documented, but the new survey data shows the flip side of the record income gap—the rise of the "new rich." Made up largely of older professionals, working married couples and more educated singles, the new rich are those with household income of $250,000 or more at some point during their working lives. That puts them, if sometimes temporarily, in the top 2% of earners. Even outside periods of unusual wealth, members of this group generally hover in the $100,000-plus income range, keeping them in the top 20% of earners. Companies increasingly are marketing to this rising demographic, fueling a surge of "mass luxury" products and services, from premium Starbucks coffee and organic groceries to concierge medicine and VIP lanes at airports. Political parties are taking a renewed look at the up-for-grabs group, once solidly Republican. They're not the traditional rich. In a country where poverty is at a record high, today's new rich are notable for their sense of economic fragility. They've reached the top 2%, only to fall below it in many cases. That makes them much more fiscally conservative than other Americans, polling suggests, and less likely to support public programs, such as food stamps or early public education, to help the disadvantaged. Read the full story.
News roundup: New American Airlines emerges as deal closes … Spies’ dragnet reaches a playing field of elves and trolls … Environmentalists, unions seek to fix gas leaks
Ready for takeoff: American Airlines has emerged from bankruptcy protection, and US Airways culminated its long pursuit of a merger partner after the two completed a deal this morning to create the world's biggest airline. The merger survived a challenge from the government and criticism from consumer groups, who fear it will lead to higher prices. It's the latest in a series of mergers that will leave four airlines controlling more than 80% of the U.S. air-travel market and with more power than ever to limit seats and boost profits. The American Airlines name will live on, while US Airways will join Continental, Northwest and other airlines that now exist only in the memories of employees and longtime travelers. The Associated Press has the full story.
The game inside the game: Not limiting their activities to the earthly realm, American and British spies have infiltrated the fantasy worlds of World of Warcraft and Second Life, conducting surveillance and scooping up data in the online games played by millions of people across the globe, according to newly disclosed classified documents obtained by The New York Times. Fearing that terrorist or criminal networks could use the games to communicate secretly, move money or plot attacks, the documents show, intelligence operatives have entered terrain populated by digital avatars that include elves, gnomes and supermodels. Read the full story.
Common ground: Unions and environmentalists have found one point of agreement in the bitter debate over the natural gas drilling boom: leaky old pipelines that threaten public health and the environment need to be fixed. It’s a huge national effort that could cost $82 billion. The Department of Transportation estimates that more than 30,000 miles of decades-old, decaying cast-iron pipe are still being used to deliver natural gas nationwide. The Associated Press has the full story.
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