Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Fri, August 22, 2014

Clements puts 32 acres at River Park on the market

Developer Pete Clements says he is negotiating with two national real estate developers, both of whom are interested in buying large tracts of his planned River Park development and building apartments at the site near Hollywood Casino. Clements listed for sale 32.3 acres of the 36-acre downtown site, which he has been trying for several years to develop into a mixed-use development on the riverfront with entertainment venues, multi-family residential complexes, retail and office space. National real estate broker CBRE is listing the property on its website for an undisclosed price. Clements says since he began working with CBRE earlier this year he met with several potential buyers and is now down to two. One is interested in buying some land and partnering with Clements in a joint-venture to develop other parts of it. The other buyer is interested only in buying the land and developing it. Clements says selling off the residential portions of the River Park site—which comprises almost all of the footprint—was always part of his plan, though it was never previously disclosed. "That's what you need to get it done," he says. "You need someone in the development business of apartments. You find the best people possible that have the capability of the equity and the financing, and that's who you work with." Clements says he is close to finalizing deals with both interested buyers, though he declines to provide specifics. As for the entertainment district portion at River Park, Clements maintain, as he has for months, that he is close to securing financing for that part of the project, and that it is not for sale. —Stephanie Riegel

Transportation officials studying traffic solutions

The state has conducted studies aimed at relieving traffic near the Interstate 10 and Interstate 110 split, said Department of Transportation and Development Assistant Secretary Dennis Decker at a Leaders with Vision forum on Thursday. Studies have looked into the effect of removing the Washington Street on-ramp, just before the split on I-10 west. The department also investigated the safety of the Government Street on-ramp to I-10 east. There, drivers enter the interstate on I-110 as it merges into traffic coming from the Mississippi River bridge. Decker said neither study prompted any changes, that removing the Washington Street ramp would not have much effect and that the Government Street ramp didn't lead to many accidents after all. Because the interstates are federal roads, any changes would have to be approved by the feds, who may have bigger concerns with I-110, Decker said. "Federal focus," Decker said, "has been on limiting left hand exits," which litter I-110 downtown. "It has a lot of things we wouldn't do if we were building it today," Decker said. —Kelly Connelly

Today's poll question: Local transportation planners say the idea of a northern loop in East Baton Rouge Parish is still alive, with one planner suggesting we could pay for the project by making it a 16-cent-per-mile tollway. Would you pay 16 cents a mile to use the loop?

LaPolitics: Jindal watched closely as exit approaches

With expectations mounting that Gov. Bobby Jindal will soon announce his campaign for president, attention is turning to not only who he will bring along with him but also what will transpire politically back home during the transition. "Things are in motion. The announcement is coming," says a senior-level source in the cabinet. "It's no secret that he's not around, but some of the people close to him are keeping their plays close to their vest and trying to figure out where they're going to land. But you do have a few people who are willing to die on the sword for him and will ride it out in hopes they can come along." Another source with the state Republican Party says an official announcement is expected after this current election cycle wraps up, and Jindal indicated the same during a recent interview on MSNBC, while qualifying he's still undecided. "You're going to start to see some shuffling around of players sooner than later," the party official says. A longtime lobbyist adds, "Cabinet-level people are already starting to make moves and inquire about positions. Not necessarily on the secretary level, because some of them have retirement and other issues, but definitely with the deputies and those in proximity." This kind of situation is routine toward the end of a governor's final term, but Jindal's political schedule is moving it up by a few months. As for the 2015 regular session, lawmakers say there's a real appetite growing for cutting tax exemptions in order to create revenue, despite Jindal's long-held stance that such policy maneuvers equate to tax increases. "None of us want to run for re-election next year on cutting higher ed and health care to the bone," says one lawmaker. "A lot of things will be on the table in 2015: the e-fairness tax, the film tax credits, the cigarette tax. We'll see if they actually move. The game of chicken I see playing out is Jindal preserving his anti-tax pledge and the Legislature overriding him." Even though sources contend Revenue Secretary Tim Barfield has been encouraging the governor to find a peaceful middle ground, Jindal can probably avoid an override, which is probably unlikely anyhow, by simply stalling the bills he opposes during the short two-month session. Lobbyists say Jindal may still have sway over three very important pressure points in the process, including House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles; Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego; and Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Chairman Neil Riser, R-Columbia. Regardless, Jindal will have skin in the game since he will have to propose a 2015-2016 budget that could have a hole as large as $1.2 billion or more, based on the short-term financing used in the current budget and predictions released recently to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.

—The Louisiana Family Forum has released its latest scorecard on the 2014 votes taken by state legislators. While it shows how legislators match up with the faith-based group's policy priorities, the scorecard also offers a glimpse of just how conservative the Legislature has become over the past 10 years. "When we started this in 2004 there were about 26 lawmakers in the House and Senate who voted pro-life and pro-family, in general," LFF president Gene Mills tells LaPolitics. "This year the number is about 83 or 84." The real milestone belongs to Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell, who, for the 10th consecutive year, has scored 100% on the scorecard. One issue not included in the rankings was the surrogacy births bill. "We left that off because there may have been some confusion on what our position was," Mills says. At its September reception, the Family Forum will present a slate of Republicans with Life and Liberty Awards, as well as two Democrats: Reps. Neil Abramson of New Orleans and Katrina Jackson of Monroe. "That's not unusual anymore," says Mills. "There are usually a few stalwarts." On the horizon, the Family Forum is working on election guides for the federal races and maybe judicial contests, too. Candidates will not be endorsed but rather quizzed on important issues. Like the scorecards, the election guides will be distributed to pastors around Louisiana.

They said it: "We have a saying: No permanent friends. No permanent enemies. Only permanent interests." —Kenneth L. Campbell, president of the Black Alliance, which is funding a pro-Common Core lawsuit in Louisiana against his former ally Gov. Bobby Jindal, in The New York Times.

(Jeremy Alford publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, at LaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter, or on Facebook. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.)

Executive editor: La.'s billion dollar wager

In his latest column, Business Report Executive Editor David Dodson wonders if there a sustainable, long-term supply of natural gas at steady, affordable prices, or if the shale gas boom is just a flash in the pan. Or, as energy skeptic and Peak Gas exponent Art Berman put it in a recent interview with Oilprice.com, is the current surge in domestic energy production a revolution or a retirement party? "The answer is of more than passing interest," Dodson writes. "If your answer is, 'Yes, we have 100 years of recoverable natural gas at prices the economy can sustain,' then you end up with the industrial construction boom everybody wants and expects in Louisiana, and that boom doesn't have a bust attached to its rear end. Louisiana rides the rails of prosperity for generations, all thanks to abundant and affordable natural gas (and of course, to our industrial and transportation infrastructure, our workforce, and our enviable geographic location)." But, says Dodson, "if your answer is, 'No, people with strong financial incentives have completely overhyped the amount of gas that is recoverable at reasonable prices in order to line their own pockets, and we are headed for yet another seriously burst bubble,' then get ready for waves of disappointment like the one that washed over us when Royal Dutch Shell's proposed $20 billion gas-to-liquids plant planned for Ascension Parish went poof." Dodson says the big money thus far is wagering on America's being the next Saudi Arabia of natural gas, with plenty of energy for its own needs and to spare for years to come. The optimism is based on the early astounding successes with the use of hydraulic fracturing technology, he notes. "While the early results are undeniably amazing, disagreement has arisen over whether current production levels are sustainable and transferable to the many potential shale plays that have not been developed," Dodson writes. Read the full column. Send your comments to editors@businessreport.com.

'225 Dine': A Taste of Tiger Tailgating returns to the River Center Saturday

The first game of the LSU football season is only a week away, and Tiger fans have been buzzing with excitement all offseason. 225 Dine reports that while questions may remain about how the Tigers will fare this season, one thing is certain: LSU fans know how to tailgate. If you need a few items or just want to get a preview of some of the hottest places in town, head to the River Center for the 13th annual A Taste of Tiger Tailgating event Saturday from 5 to 8 p.m. The event features around 90 booths spotlighting local restaurants and food, as well as tailgating necessities. Among the vendors on hand are Willie's Chicken and Waffles, Alexander's Highland Market, Calandro's, The Pelican House, Tony's Seafood and many others. A Taste of Tiger Tailgating also features musical performances from Dylan Scott, Natalie Stovall & The Drive and Jamie Lynn Spears. Tickets are $25, and VIP tickets are available. For more information, click here. ​Get your fill of more local culinary news in the new 225 Dine e-newsletter.

US labor market less flexible than in 1990, economists warn

The U.S. labor market has become steadily less dynamic since 1990, with workers seemingly locked into particular jobs and a more sluggish process of job creation and destruction in the private sector, according to research to be presented to global central bankers today. Reuters reports the research by two top labor economists portrays the United States as potentially losing one of its notable economic strengths—the robust flow of workers between jobs, and the churn of employment as companies succeed and fail. They say the apparent trend had been caused by several factors: dominant large retailers driving less labor-efficient firms out of business; an aging workforce less likely to change jobs; and the accumulation of regulations and more intense training requirements that have made it harder to join some professions as well as to fire workers. Those and other forces have driven down measures of labor market fluidity by as much as 25% since 1990, a trend that could translate into lower employment levels, productivity and wages, economists Steven Davis of the University of Chicago and John Haltiwanger of the University of Maryland write in a research paper prepared for the annual central banking conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Read the full story.

News roundup: La. lawmakers travel to learn about Common Core opposition … Yellen still sees 'significant' under-use of labor resources … Industry looks to develop better methane monitors

Field trip: A delegation of anti-Common Core state lawmakers is headed to Oklahoma today to hear how leaders there were able to successfully repeal the education standards. WWL.com reports that among them will be Republican Lake Charles Rep. Brett Geymann, who says they'll be meeting with legislators who passed bills that reassert state control over standards and tests. Read the full story.

Work to be done: Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen says slack remains in the U.S. labor market even after gains made during the five years of economic recovery. "The economy has made considerable progress in recovering from the largest and most sustained loss of employment" since the Great Depression, Yellen said today in a speech at the Kansas City Fed's annual economics conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Even so, she underscored that “underutilization of labor resources still remains significant.” Bloomberg has the full story.

A better way: Energy companies and an environmental group are working together to develop technology that could help cut down on harmful methane emissions. FuelFix.com reports the Environmental Defense Fund is working with seven oil and gas companies to help identify devices that can do a better job at detecting methane emissions from energy operations. The idea is that if the industry knows when methane is being released, it can do a better job of blocking it. Read the full story.

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