Official AG opinion sought on constitutionality of CATS tax
Republican Sen. Dan Claitor of Baton Rouge has asked Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell for his office to issue an official opinion on whether or not the 10.6-mill property tax that Baton Rouge and Baker voters approved in April for CATS funding is legal under Louisiana's constitution. In a five-page letter sent to Caldwell on July 5, Claitor argues that the election was not necessary and is "at odds with earlier, more constitutionally sound proposals for CATS funding." As approved by voters, Claitor says, "the CATS tax forces people owning property within the city limits of Baton Rouge and Baker to pay for services provided to untaxed parties outside the city limits and elsewhere in the parish." Claitor cites a 1974 case argued before the Louisiana Supreme Court as precedent "that a tax of this sort violates the constitutional right to equal protection." Read Claitor's complete five-page request for the opinion here. Caldwell's office has thus far already issued one opinion on the CATS tax, saying in May that the state's homestead exemption should be applied to the property tax.
Applications process for Louisiana Course Choice program begins Monday
The Louisiana Department of Education will begin accepting requests for applications Monday from those interested in becoming certified course providers under a new provision of the state's education law that will allow students in poorly performing public schools to take courses outside of the traditional school setting. Known as Louisiana Course Choice, the provision of the recently enacted Act 2 education law has been largely overlooked until now. But it represents a radically different way for students in "C-," "D-" and "F"-rated public schools to take for-credit courses that their schools either don't offer or don't do an adequate job of presenting. Under the new law, which doesn't begin until the 2013-14 school year, alternative courses will be offered in any number of formats—online, in a classroom or both—by any number of providers who qualify, including existing school districts and job training academies, virtual schools, individual educators or even local companies. "We don't know who will apply or what the market is going to propose," says Dave Leftkowith, deputy superintendent of education. "That's the beauty of opening it up to the market. Markets will surprise and delight you." —Stephanie Riegel Read the full story here.
LSU health care system takes brunt of Medicaid cut
LSU's network of charity hospitals and clinics will lose a quarter of its budget, with the Jindal administration choosing to levy the largest slice of Medicaid cuts on the facilities. Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein says nearly $317 million of the $523 million in cuts announced today will fall on the public health care system run by LSU. Hospital officials had previously warned that they couldn't make deep cuts without shuttering facilities. Greenstein says the administration's plan doesn't call for closures, but asks LSU to make structural changes and create efficiencies. The slashing is tied to a congressional reduction in Louisiana's federal Medicaid financing rate. Other cuts will fall on nursing homes and hospitals that take care of Medicaid patients. A state-run mental hospital in Mandeville will be closed.
'225': Winning 'em over
Baton Rouge Chef William Wells thrives on competition. He has entered dozens of culinary face-offs over the course of his career to prove his mettle to judges nationwide. His walls are decorated with proof of his success, so it was no surprise he won top honors in WAFB's televised professional chef's cook-off in March. By the competition's 59-minute time limit, Wells transformed a mystery basket of ingredients into a contemporary Creole dish he named Breakfast on the Bayou. The contest's three finalists were asked to use six of nine set items: grits, mushrooms, peanut butter, kale, sauerkraut, bittersweet chocolate, Guinness stout, oysters and tomatoes. Wells won with a dish composed of crispy oysters with Tabasco-smoked tomato cream, baked sausage quiche, wild mushroom grit cake and wilted kale. "There are a lot of young guns out there," says Wells, 47. "But I'm still gunning. Wells has the energy and demeanor of a restaurant chef—traits he earned from years of working in top regional eateries—but since 2000, he has devoted his career to Culinary Productions, the catering company he and his wife, Jennifer, created. Read the full feature by Maggie Heyn Richardson in this month's issue of 225 here.
$100M contract makes Brees the NFL's highest paid player
The Who Dat Nation can finally breathe a collective sigh of relief. Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints agreed today to a five-year contract worth $100 million, making the 33-year-old quarterback the highest-paid player in NFL history. Brees took to Twitter to announce the blockbuster deal—which will see him bank $40 million in the first year alone—saying: "Deal is Done! Love you, Who Dat Nation. See you soon!" And, as The Times-Picayune reports, he later told ESPN's Ed Werder: "I appreciate the diligence and steadfast efforts by both sides to get this deal done. I love my organization, team, and the city of New Orleans. Thank you especially to [owners] Gayle and Tom Benson for the opportunity. Now I need to go earn it." Brees is expected to do a radio interview tonight in New Orleans but isn't planning any other interviews until a press conference, likely Sunday. The average salary of $20 million surpassed the $19.2 million per year that the Denver Broncos gave quarterback Peyton Manning earlier this year. Read the full story here.
Jindal skipping national governors meeting for Nebraska trip
Gov. Bobby Jindal isn't joining the nation's governors at a meeting this weekend in Virginia and is instead scheduled to speak at the Nebraska Republican convention. Jindal spokesman Kyle Plotkin confirms today that the Republican governor won't attend the National Governors Association annual meeting, which is focused on job creation and economic development. Plotkin didn't answer a question concerning Jindal's reasons for not attending the meeting. Several Nebraska news outlets have reported that Louisiana's governor is on the list of scheduled speakers for the Nebraska GOP meeting on Saturday. At the Nebraska convention, delegates to the Republican national convention will be elected. Read more about Jindal's anticipated appearance at the convention here.
News roundup: Southern-Shreveport approved for tuition hike … Harry Connick Jr. to host TV music show … Nevada OK's crawfish season to improve Lake Tahoe
Hard times: The Board of Regents today voted to let Southern University at Shreveport raise tuition by 10% this fall, a move being made by nearly every other public college in Louisiana. The board previously had refused to approve the increase because officials claimed the SU System's Shreveport campus fell short of the performance standards required under the GRAD Act, a 2010 law authorizing the tuition increases. Southern appealed the determination for its two-year community college, saying it had improperly reported its data but had met the standards. The Shreveport Times has the full story here.
Do Re Mi: New Orleans native and Grammy-winning jazz singer Harry Connick Jr. will host and perform in a new television show that pays tribute to the music of Louisiana and the industries that have shaped its culture and history. The one-hour show, a Louisiana Public Broadcasting special set to air in December, will be available to PBS affiliates nationwide next year. Many of Louisiana's most famous musicians—including Tim McGraw, Irma Thomas, Zachary Richard, Better Than Ezra, Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Guy—will be featured. The show was announced today. Learn more about it here.
The unwelcome guest: Last week, Nevada authorized the commercial trapping of crawfish in Lake Tahoe after a local sportsman and scientist persuaded state authorities it would be good business. Not only that, but the men say it will improve the famed, though vulnerable, water clarity of one of America's greatest natural treasures. The New York Times reports the newly approved harvest will be the first commercial fishing allowed in the lake since the 1930s. Though it's an invasive species in the lake, the crawfish population has swelled in recent years to an estimated 280 million and is contributing to a decline in the lake's clarity. Read the full feature here.