Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Tue, April 10, 2012

Survey says Louisianans split on higher education

Nearly half of Louisianans who recently participated in the annual Louisiana Survey—49%—say state colleges are excellent-to-good at meeting workforce needs, while 63% say the state doesn't have enough community and technical colleges. In the latest release of survey results from the LSU Public Policy Research Lab, Louisianans also gave Baton Rouge's colleges the lowest marks in the state, with just 41% rating them excellent or good. Comparatively, 52% said the same of New Orleans colleges. When it comes the TOPS tuition assistance program, 75% of respondents oppose reducing the total amount eligible to qualifying students, while 49% support increasing academic standards for TOPS—down from 58% who said the same in last year's survey. Also in the survey results:
• 68% reject the notion that Louisiana has too many four-year colleges;
• 43% support providing a flat monetary award for TOPS, while 46% are opposed;
• 82% of college-educated respondents oppose reducing TOPS award amounts, while 63% of respondents with less than a high school education say the same;
• 84% of respondents earning a household income of $75,000 or more oppose reducing TOPS amounts, while 68% of respondents earning $30,000 or less say the same;
• 85% favor limiting tuition increases to assure colleges and universities remain affordable, while 12% favor allowing colleges and universities to raise tuition and 3% were unsure or did not know.
The Louisiana Survey aims to serve as an annual barometer of statewide public opinion on a number of issues. The overall survey included views of 731 randomly selected respondents, who were polled via phone. Complete survey details, results and methodology can be found here.

Editor: Mass transit deserves support, but not CATS tax

When it comes to the 10-year, $180 million tax plan to sustain, grow and—now—save the Capital Area Transit System, Business Report Executive Editor JR Ball is a little torn. In his latest column, Ball says he ardently supports the goal of attaining a vibrant and sustainable mass transit system, adding that he likes the implementation aspects of the proposed plan to achieve that goal. But Ball also abhors changes made to the financing of the plan, which was done to get the issue before voters in Baton Rouge, Baker and Zachary on April 21, six months earlier than initially scheduled. "The proposal, to me, took a fatal turn in January when the Metro Council balked at solving CATS' $2 million funding shortfall, prompting transit officials to declare buses would stop running in July if a financial lifeline was not found. Consequently, the tax plan was changed so that it could do something proponents never intended—save CATS," Ball says. Moving the election date up six months required using pre-existing taxing districts that exclude some of CATS' biggest benefactors—including Towne Center, Perkins Rowe and the Mall of Louisiana, where an express route is proposed. "I refuse to accept that the ends—an improved and sustainable mass transit system—justify the means of a now fatally flawed funding mechanism," Ball concludes. "My position is to oppose this tax in April and then support the tax, as originally proposed and funded, either in November or some future election." Read the complete column here, and send your comments to [email protected].

B.R. Growth Coalition endorses CATS tax

The Baton Rouge Growth Coalition is throwing its support behind the 10.6-mill property tax on the April 21 ballot that would serve as a dedicated funding source for the Capital Area Transit System. "We stand with other business leaders in our community in support of a dedicated funding source for public transportation in Baton Rouge," says BRGC Executive Director Scott Bardwell in a prepared statement. "We believe the collaborative process led by the Blue Ribbon Commission on EBR Transit has generated a workable and sustainable model for offering services to our community that are critical to long-term economic vitality." Together Baton Rouge and the Baton Rouge Area Chamber are also endorsing the tax, while the Metro Council took up the issue at a recent meeting but ultimately deleted an agenda item to support the tax after council members voiced varying opinions on the tax. Baton Rouge-based political action committee Taxbusters has led opposition to the tax. Check out the current Business Report cover story here to read more about the proposed CATS tax and how dedicated taxes in East Baton Rouge Parish compare to those in other U.S. cities.

Oil firms hurt by Gulf spill welcome back drill rigs

Gulf of Mexico oil drillers will be busier this year than at any point since the BP oil spill of 2010 that upended their industry and soiled their reputation along with parts of the marshy Louisiana coast, Reuters reports. Eight more deepwater rigs are expected in the Gulf this year, based on what oil companies tell contractors, including Transocean, Ensco and Seadrill. Such an influx would bring the active deepwater count to 29, just short of the level before the well blowout two years ago this month. "Our customers still see the Gulf of Mexico as an attractive place to do business," says Steven Newman, head of Transocean, the world's largest rig contractor. "We view the Gulf of Mexico today as a net importer of rigs, rather than a net exporter." The pace of permitting remains choppy. Greater New Orleans Inc. says an average of three permits a month were approved in the November to January period, compared with nearly six per month in the year before the spill. Louisiana is home to 1,777 small oil and gas firms, with $4.2 billion in combined annual revenue, and a survey of about 100 of them found that half had to let people go in the past two years, while more than three-quarters ate away at cash reserves or owners' personal savings, according to GNO Inc. Read the full feature here.

Restoring La. coast a national priority, study says

A new report from a team of state and national environmental and social scientists and engineers says Louisiana and the United States can't wait 50 years to restore economically and environmentally important coastal wetlands, The Times-Picayune reports. The report also says the task is likely to cost $50 billion or more and that the nation as a whole should shoulder at least part of the cost. The report attempts to answer the most troubling questions about coastal restoration, says John Day, chairman of the Mississippi River Delta Science and Engineering special team and a professor emeritus of coastal sciences at LSU. "Our discussions led us to answer a number of questions that people brought up to suggest that coastal restoration might not be feasible," Day says. "Isn't it too expensive? Is there enough sediment in the river? What about navigation and control? Won't it affect people living on the coast?" The report was prepared to help direct the coastal policy of the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign, a consortium of national and local environmental groups. It concludes that the negative effects of building major freshwater and sediment diversions to rebuild wetlands are easily outweighed by the economic and environmental costs of not building them. "If we don't do something fairly big very soon, in a decade or two, the effects could be disastrous," Day says. A more scientific version of the 42-page summary released Monday will be completed in a few weeks, Day says, and will be followed by a book version later this year. Check out the full story here. The complete study is available here.

Deadline to nominate for Women in Business Awards is today

You've only got until 5 p.m. today to make your nominations for Business Report's 2012 Influential Women in Business Awards. To qualify for the honor, nominees must be business owners or top managers, and must have a noticeable impact on their business or industry. Also, the business, industry or organization each nominee is affiliated with must fall into one of the following categories: retail/wholesale, health care, finance, professional, telecommunications/technology, manufacturing/industry, transportation, communications, nonprofits, government or education. Bear in mind that every nominee must have a clear vision for the future, which she has communicated to her staff and demonstrated. The women selected for this year's awards will be profiled in the May 29 issue of Business Report and honored at a June 5 luncheon at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Additional details and ticket info for the luncheon will be announced as the event nears. Make your nominations online here; and see last year's winners here.

News roundup: Ruston chamber likes LSUS/Tech merger … Employers posted more job openings in February … Microsoft's $1B deal with AOL just one part of patent scramble

All aboard: The proposed merger of Louisiana Tech University and LSU-Shreveport has been endorsed by the Ruston-Lincoln Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. The board unanimously approved a resolution last week urging area lawmakers to support a proposed merger of the two institutions into one enlarged Louisiana Tech with Ruston and Shreveport campuses. The proposed merger is the leading recommendation of a study conducted by Eva Klein and Associates and supported by the Louisiana Board of Regents. "The creation of a second Louisiana Tech campus in Shreveport will inevitably create additional interest from manufacturing companies, research firms and high-tech facilities searching for new or additional locations," the resolution says. "This proposed merger will help secure new jobs, quality jobs, for the people of north Louisiana."

Help wanted: Employers posted slightly more job openings and stepped up overall hiring in February. The figures suggest that modest job gains may continue in the coming months. The Labor Department reports this morning that employers posted 3.5 million job openings in February, up slightly from a revised 3.48 million in January. Job openings reached a three-year high of 3.54 million in December. The data come after a disappointing jobs report last week. Employers added only 120,000 jobs in March, about half the average that were added in the previous three months. The unemployment rate fell to 8.2%, though that was mostly because people gave up looking for work.

While the getting's good: AOL's $1 billion deal to sell and license patents to Microsoft is another in a series of Antiques Roadshow moments in the technology world. Faded companies have been rummaging through their assets recently, and some of them have found musty old patents that turn out to be worth a great deal. Patents have become a hot commodity in recent years. They give the holder the exclusive right to use certain technologies or business processes in the United States. Companies such as Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Google and others are collecting large patent libraries and increasingly using them in lawsuits—to defend their businesses or to attack rivals. A valuable patent is less like a forgotten Rembrandt and more like a rusty-but-serviceable gun. "Patents have become legal weapons. They're not representing ideas anymore," says James Bessen, a lecturer at Boston University and the director of a nonprofit that studies patent issues. Check out the full feature from The Associated Press here.

Today's poll question: Do you want the Legislature to approve a bill that would place on the November ballot a measure to strengthen gun rights in Louisiana?

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