Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Mon, March 12, 2012

Auditor: Blaine Kern got $1M in tax credits it shouldn't have

Blaine Kern Artists—New Orleans' best-known Mardi Gras float builder—and a New Orleans movie production company it was partnered with took nearly $1 million in movie tax credits for which they were ineligible. So says a report released this morning by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor. According to the report, the Louisiana Department of Economic Development appears to have issued more than $935,000 in tax credits to BKA and Louisiana Entertainment and Production (LEAP) between 2006 and 2009 for the production of Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras: Building of the Greatest Free Show on Earth, a documentary that was supposed to cost more than $3.4 million to make. According to the audit, however, $3.25 million of those expenses were ineligible for the tax credit program for a variety of reasons, and the remaining $172,953 that did qualify as an eligible expense fell short of the $300,000 threshold required by state law to receive motion picture tax credits. "This indicates that members of LEAP and or BKA may have violated state laws by misrepresenting the nature of these expenditures to LED and, as a result, deprived the state of tax revenues totaling $935,114," the report states. LEAP and BKA later sold the tax credits for $821,343. The documentary was made, but was never distributed or aired. You can check out the entire 89-page report here. —Stephanie Riegel   

Former U.S. attorney takes on Livingston Parish debris fight

Former Baton Rouge U.S. Attorney David Dugas may soon be reimmersing himself in two areas he frequented as a federal prosecutor: the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Livingston Parish politics. The Livingston Parish Council has hired McGlinchey Stafford law firm to represent it in a $52 million lawsuit filed against it by IED, the Alabama contractor responsible for clearing storm debris after Hurricane Gustav. FEMA has so far refused to reimburse the parish for the work, alleging much of it was improper. Payment of the massive bill remains in dispute, and the heart of the matter rests on whether the Livingston Parish Council will be on the hook for any cleanup that didn't meet FEMA requirements. If federal rules permit, Dugas is expected to handle the case. The attorney is no stranger to FEMA or Livingston Parish. While U.S. attorney, he was director of the Department of Justice's National Center for Disaster Fraud and executive director of the Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force. He also served as co-chair of the U.S. Justice Department's Environmental Crimes Policy Committee. Dugas also prosecuted former Livingston Parish President Dewey Ratcliff and former Livingston Parish Councilman Robert Ringo. Dugas was appointed by President George W. Bush and took office in October 2001. He joined McGlinchey Stafford in April 2010.

Maginnis to provide daily commentary on session beginning today

As a new legislative session opens today with the political stage set for historic battles on school and pension reform, Daily Report readers can look forward to getting fresh perspective on all the blow-by-blow at the Capitol every day from award-winning political columnist John Maginnis. The publisher of LaPolitics Weekly will be providing exclusive commentary every day of the session on Daily Report PM. Lawmakers are to convene at noon today to kick off the session. Gov. Bobby Jindal is scheduled to speak an hour later to a joint session of the House and Senate. The Republican governor's agenda is dictating the tone and main topics to be considered in the three-month session. He's pushing large changes to teacher pay and education funding, and he's proposing to shrink retirement benefits for thousands of state workers. More than 1,500 bills have been filed, with legislators proposing to revisit annual fights over cellphone use while driving, teaching sex education in classes, abortion restrictions and mandatory drug-testing for welfare recipients. But legislative leaders say the focus will be on education, retirement and the 2012-13 budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The session must end by June 4. Maginnis has been writing about state politics since 1972, and his syndicated column appears in publications across the state, including Business Report. If you're not already signed up for Daily Report PM and you want to get Maginnis' insights on the session, click here.

Fourth year brings Haynesville Shale slowdown

It's been four years this month since the Haynesville Shale's presence was made public, and for the first time since the rich deposit of natural gas was tapped a slowdown is occurring in drilling activity in northwest Louisiana, The Shreveport Times reports. Companies such as Chesapeake, EnCana and Shell are slicing their rig counts in northwest Louisiana, though they continue to service the thousands of wells already drilled there. Industry officials predict that once natural gas prices rise and stabilize, the dry gas fields like the Haynesville will be hot again, especially as markets are developed overseas for liquefied natural gas. "Over the past four years, the Haynesville Shale has brought thousands of direct jobs and created billions of dollars in new business sales for the state of Louisiana," says Don Briggs, Louisiana Oil and Gas Association president. "The Haynesville Shale is responsible for stabilizing the state economy during a trying financial climate in the United States. While the rig count has split in half from its peak of 139 in 2010 to now around 60 rigs in north Louisiana, we will see certain companies remain in the Haynesville for years to come." Sales tax collections in DeSoto Parish—which encompasses much of the Haynesville Shale activity—zoomed past $120 million during fiscal year 2010-11, blasting the previous year's collections of $84 million. To date this year, more than $68 million has been collected, about $9 million less than this time a year ago. Read the full story here.

Public forum on mass transit set for Thursday

Representatives from Together Baton Rouge, Capital Area Transit System, Tax Busters and the Blue Ribbon Commission on Mass Transit will be among the panelists at a public forum on Thursday called "Mass Transit in Baton Rouge: Necessity or Pipe Dream?" The League of Women Voters of Baton Rouge is hosting the forum at Drusilla Seafood, 3482 Drusilla Lane. Registration will begin at 11:30 a.m., with the program to start at noon. The meeting comes as Baton Rouge's roadways are more congested than ever and voters are being asked to consider a new property tax to act as a dedicated funding source for CATS and transit improvements. The tax will be on the April 21 ballot. Confirmed panelists are Dianne Hanley, Together Baton Rouge; Jared Loftus, CATS board member; Alex Velasquez, Tax Busters; and Raymond Jetson, chair of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Mass Transit. Other panelists may be added. Tickets to the forum are $25 for the public and $20 for LWVBR members. Reservations are recommended and can be made online here (online registration includes a $2 convenience fee), or by calling the LWVBR at 334-9999 or 927-2255.

Today’s poll question: If you were to vote today, would you support the new property tax that’s to serve as a dedicated funding source for the Capital Area Transit System?

Shaw lands contracts to upgrade Thailand refinery

The Shaw Group has been awarded contracts to provide a process design package and technology license for the addition of a deep catalytic cracking unit to a refinery in Rayong, Thailand, the company announced today. The addition of the DCC unit will increase the refinery's output by 30,000 barrels per day. It currently churns out about 215,000 barrels daily. The value of the contracts was not disclosed. Shaw is the exclusive licensed provider of DCC technology outside of China, and together with the technology's developer—China's SINOPEC Research Institute of Petroleum Processing—has licensed a total of 16 DCC units. The first DCC complex designed and engineered by Shaw was commissioned in 1997 for the same refinery in Thailand as the one named in the contracts announced today.

News roundup: SU professor and faculty senate president honored with academic freedom award … Hispanic chamber eyes more visibility in Baton Rouge … IberiaBank celebrating 125th anniversary today

Get up, stand up: Sudhir Trivedi, a computer science professor and faculty senate president at Southern University, is being honored by the American Association of University Professors with its J. Thomas Hamrick Award for "exemplary faculty efforts on behalf of academic freedom." Trivedi will be presented with the award at AAUP's Louisiana Conference in New Orleans on April 14. "This honor truly belongs to the faculty of SUBR and is a clear acknowledgment of its heroic fight against the injustice and inequity that this faculty is subjected to by the administration and the management board," Trivedi says in a prepared statement.

Buenos das: Founded in 1984, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana has primarily operated in New Orleans. But as the state's demographics continue to change, the HCCL says it plans to evolve with the times and will become more active in areas of the state outside the Crescent City. The HCCL held its first major event in Baton Rouge on Friday and has planned an entire series of events to take place here during the rest of 2012. "Baton Rouge has seen an explosion of growth of Hispanics and Hispanic-owned businesses since (Hurricane) Katrina," says HCCL Executive Director Darlene Kattan. Learn more about the HCCL and check out its full schedule of events in Baton Rouge and beyond here.

Back to the future: Lafayette-based IberiaBank marks 125 years in business today and is giving away an iPad at each of its branches to celebrate. "Consistent with our dedication to taking care of the community, we are excited about celebrating this important milestone by simply giving back," says Ben Marmande, Baton Rouge president. "We have additional reasons to celebrate in the Baton Rouge area as we are opening our sixth branch location in April … at the corner of Acadian Thruway and Perkins (Road), with another location to open in late 2012 at Airline (Highway) and Pecue (Lane)." You can stop by any branch to learn more about the iPad giveaway. On Wednesday, the bank says it will give out $12,500 worth of gas at random service stations throughout south Louisiana. The bank has grown from humble beginnings to one with $11.8 billion in assets, more than 2,500 associates and 263 combined offices in 12 states. See a video timeline the bank has put together to mark the anniversary here.

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