Daily Report

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

'Times-Pic' turns up the heat in war of words with the 'Advocate'

While a bill that would allow The New Orleans Advocate to compete for lucrative government classified ads in Orleans and Jefferson parishes is steamrolling its way through the Legislature, The Times-Picayune—which is fighting the proposed legislation—is ratcheting up the rhetoric in its ongoing battle with the daily. In a letter sent yesterday to The Advocate's general manager Dan Shea and shared with members of a legislative committee as well as the Louisiana Press Association, The Times-Picayune's Associate Publisher David Francis challenges testimony Shea gave before a legislative committee earlier this week while making the case for why his paper should be allowed to compete for the classifieds business. During the testimony, Shea cited the growth of The New Orleans Advocate and suggested Francis, who had testified before him, had misled the committee about circulation figures. "In short, Dan, I did nothing to mislead the legislature," Francis writes in his letter to Shea. "I used the most respected industry standards and specific verified data, as opposed to The Advocate, which has made unverifiable and contradictory claims about its circulation figures." —Stephanie Riegel Read the full story.

Metro Council OK's River Center upgrades and Celtic annexation, defers Rouzan rezoning

In addition to deferring the rezoning of Rouzan as a traditional neighborhood development and approving the annexation of Celtic Studios, Costco and SAIF Credit Union into the city of Baton Rouge, the Metro Council also approved on Wednesday evening a $1.2 million budget amendment for the River Center to allow for additional facility and equipment upgrades. As Daily Report first reported, the $1.2 million will cover an expansion of the facility's wireless Internet network, upgraded food and beverage equipment, and new concession carts and beer portals. Without discussion, the council unanimously approved the River Center budget amendment. Things were far less harmonious as the council took up the latest chapter in the ongoing fight between Rouzan developer Tommy Spinosa and opponents of his TND off Perkins Road. While Spinosa argued that the recent invalidation of Rouzan's TND zoning by the First Circuit threw about 40 Rouzan homeowners into a "financial nightmare,” in which they can't close on their loans or obtain title insurance, attorney Alex St. Amant—who represents the landowners who brought the suit against Spinosa that resulted in the First Circuit ruling—insisted that Spinosa and the Metro Council thrust the nightmare upon the 40 homeowners by approving the original TND zoning. The council ultimately voted to defer the Rouzan item until its May 14 meeting. It also OK'd the annexation of Celtic Studios, Costco and SAIF Credit Union into the city of Baton Rouge—with far less fireworks. —Rachel Alexander

Jindal, 'USA Today' go head to head on Common Core

Gov. Bobby Jindal and USA Today outline two opposing views on the controversial Common Core education standards on the newspaper's website today, with Jindal penning a guest column on why he opposes the standards and the newspaper writing an editorial on why it fears Common Core will be derailed by "political opportunism." "High standards for our students? Count me in. My dad was not happy with straight A's. If my brother or I got a 95%, he wanted to know what happened on the other 5%," Jindal writes in his column. "Even so, allowing the federal government to dictate education to states and local government? No thanks." Jindal says he's "from the school that believes education is a matter best left for local control," adding the notion of Washington, D.C., "determining curricula is something most states are simply not interested in. It's a non-starter." Noting in its editorial that Jindal formerly favored Common Core, but now opposes it, USA Today says attacks against Common Core by "Tea Party activists and conservative pundits and lately joined by some teachers' unions, have reached a crescendo of distortions that put students' welfare at risk." Last month, Indiana, which adopted the standards in 2010, became the first state to un-adopt them, the editorial points out, noting similar repeal moves are afoot in several other states—including Louisiana. "It's an instructive example of how easily constructive, thoughtful attempts to address the nation's problems are derailed by political opportunism," the newspaper says. Read Jindal's complete column, and check out the full USA Today editorial. —Staff report

Poll: Louisianans don't like Obamacare, but they don't want to repeal it either

Despite strong dislike of President Obama's handling of health care, a majority of people in three Southern states—Louisiana, Kentucky and North Carolina—would rather that Congress improve his signature health care law than repeal and replace it, The New York Times reports, citing its New York Times Upshot/Kaiser Family Foundation poll. "The poll also found that a majority of Kentucky residents—and a plurality in a fourth state, Arkansas—said they thought the health care marketplace in their state was working well, even as they expressed strong disapproval of the health care law," the newspaper reports. "The findings in the four states—all with political races that could tip the balance of power in the Senate—underscore the complex and often contradictory views of Obama's principal domestic legislation four years after it became law." The Times makes clear that "most people still loathe the law" across the South. Specifically, in Louisiana 46% of respondents say they “strongly disapprove" of the law, while another 13% "somewhat disapprove” of it. And yet just 44% of Louisianans say they want to see the law repealed, while 52% say they want to see lawmakers work to improve the law. "Questions about it may evoke associations with an unpopular president, the remoteness of Washington from ordinary Americans and extra costs in family budgets," the paper notes. "But majorities say they do not want it taken away, even in states that lean Republican in presidential elections." Read the full story and access the detailed poll results.

Today's poll question: Would you rather see lawmakers work to repeal the Affordable Care Act or improve it as currently being implemented?

'225 Weekender': 'Escape' from zombies at River Center tonight

The virus is spreading and zombies are taking over downtown Baton Rouge. As 225 Weekender reports, Skybound EXP is debuting its obstacle course-like event—The Walking Dead: Escape—this evening at 6 p.m. at the River Center. "Those interested can buy tickets to be a spectator, walker (zombie) or a survivor. The latter will go through the course, trying to avoid infections from the walkers, who haunt assigned areas as brainlessly and brutally as possible," 225 Weekender reports. "The survivor must make it through the course without any contact with the walkers as infection is spread by touch." David Isaacs, president of Skybound EXP, an arm of the comic-book publishing imprint founded by Robert Kirkman—which prominently features the Walking Dead comic—says the event is a way for fans to live out their own walking dead fantasy. "What we do here is not a [race] that adds some zombies," Isaacs says. "It's an immersive experience. It's not clear what's going on, and that's intentional. There's a bit of theater quality to it. We're taking people out of their comfort zone." The event has been piloted four times previously, twice at San Diego's Petco Park as part of Comic-Con International, at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and at New York City's USS Intrepid. Read the full story and get the scoop on more events on tap in Baton Rouge in the latest edition of 225 Weekender.

'Business Report': Harsh winter leads to hardy gardening, landscaping sales

After the unusually long, cold winter Capital Region residents endured this year, it's no wonder that the first signs of spring have kick-started a flurry of sales at home garden retailers. As contributing writer Alison Lee Satake details in a feature from the current issue of Business Report, sales are particularly strong this year as homeowners and gardening enthusiasts scramble to replace plants that fell victim to the winter's hard freezes. Comparatively speaking, business for many nurseries was flat last spring because the mild winter preceding it took out fewer plants. "This is the gardening industry's Christmas," says Gordon Mese, owner of Garden District Nursery, about the season from March to May. About 70% of his sales are conducted in the spring. Fall ushers in the rest. "If it doesn't die, they don't buy," he says. Likewise, the LSU AgCenter's phone has been ringing more with calls from homeowners who want to get their yards back into shape. "It's not just the needs of people who call themselves gardeners. They just want to do what's right so their lawn looks decent. Anybody who has a landscape—including people who hate it," says Dan Gill, associate professor in consumer horticulture at the AgCenter. Meanwhile, the parking lot has been full at Clegg's Siegen Lane store since mid-March, following the last cold snap, when the rain stopped and the sun came out, says Clegg's co-owner Scott Ricca. Read the full feature. Send your comments to editors@businessreport.com.

News roundup: 'Men's Health' says BR one of the least coffee-crazed cities in US … Average US 30-year mortgage rate up to 4.33% … IRS workers who failed to pay taxes got bonuses, report says

Cup by cup: When it comes to coffee, Men's Health magazine says Baton Rouge is among the least enthusiastic cities in the nation. The magazine ranks Baton Rouge No. 94 in its list of the 100 most coffee-crazed cities in the country. Not surprisingly, Portland was No. 1 on the list—but probably not the one you're thinking of. Portland, Maine, tops the list, three spots ahead of its West Coast counterpart in Oregon. New Orleans is No. 82. See the complete list.

On the rise: Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages rose this week as the spring home-buying season has gotten off to a slow start. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac reports today that the average rate for the 30-year loan rose to 4.33% from 4.27% last week. The average for the 15-year mortgage increased to 3.39% from 3.33%. Mortgage rates have risen almost a full percentage point since hitting record lows about a year ago. The Associated Press has the full story.

Say what? It's not difficult to get a bonus if you work for the Internal Revenue Service—even if you haven't paid your own taxes. As The Los Angeles Times reports, the IRS handed out a total of nearly $1.1 million in bonuses in a 27-month period to more than 1,146 employees who had been disciplined for failing to pay taxes, according to an inspector general's report. Overall, about two-thirds of IRS employees received cash bonuses and other performance awards, such as extra time off, in 2011 and 2012, the report says. Read the full story.

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