Education, jobs remain La. voters' top priorities, survey says
When Louisiana voters were recently asked which issues they want to see Gov. Bobby Jindal and lawmakers address in the legislative session that kicked off this week, 32% said education and 30% said jobs/economic development. That's according to the latest statewide survey by Southern Media & Opinion Research Inc., which is conducted twice-annually and is funded by Baton Rouge businessman Lane Grigsby, whose Alliance for Better Classrooms political action committee is very active in education issues. The poll was conducted over a six-day period concluding March 5, and included phone interviews with 600 randomly selected voters in the state. Most respondents blamed a looming state budget deficit on too much spending, while one-third said Louisiana does not have enough revenue. In order to balance the budget, the majority of respondents are opposed to increasing the state income tax, sales tax or business taxes. Among the poll's other findings:
• 54% said they support charter schools.
• 56% said public-school tax money should follow students to whatever type of school their parents choose.
• 82% said private schools accepting public money in the form of vouchers or scholarships should be held to some kind of accountability standards.
• 82% said the teacher tenure system should be changed from permanent to periodic renewals based on performance.
• 72% agreed with the state's recently adopted teacher evaluation program in which half of teachers' annual evaluation is based on student progress.
• 55% opposed abolishing state retirement systems.
See the complete survey results here.
Jindal scorches Obama on gas prices
Gov. Bobby Jindal on Wednesday ripped President Barack Obama over rising gas prices while making an appearance on Fox News' Fox & Friends, saying any of the Republican 2012 candidates will do "so much better" if elected to the White House. "The reality is, gasoline prices have doubled under this president; highest prices for oil and gasoline in 150 years. People used to think it was because of incompetence from the Obama administration on energy—I think it's because of ideology. They're pursuing a radical environmental ideology," Jindal said on the show. Following the show, Politico spoke with Jindal's office to clarify the governor's statement on the historically high prices. As Politico reports, the monthly average retail price of gasoline actually peaked at $4.26 a gallon in inflation-adjusted dollars less than four years ago, in June 2008, prior to the presidential election. It then plummeted to $1.80 a gallon in the next six months during the global financial collapse. Jindal's office tells the news organization the governor was referring to the average price for a barrel of Brent Crude oil in 2011 and the average price of gasoline in 2011, which were the highest annual averages in 150 years. Nonetheless, Politico says the current prices of crude oil and gasoline are lower than the peaks they reached in 2008, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Energy. You can see a video of Jindal's appearance on Fox & Friends here, and read the Politico coverage of it here.
Today's poll question: Whom do you blame for the rise in gas prices in recent years?
FuelFact: Gingrich's claims on $2.50 gas running on empty
A lot is being said about gas prices in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election. Though most GOP candidates simply say they'll be able to drive gas prices down, but don't give specifics, Newt Gingrich says he has a plan to ensure gas prices don't exceed $2.50 a gallon. Inspired by fact-checking websites like PolitiFact.com and FactCheck.org, FuelFix.com—The Houston Chronicle's site for all energy, oil and gas related news—is launching FuelFact to gauge the truthfulness of comments such as Gingrich's about gas prices. "Gingrich could possibly slightly lower prices for consumers, but analysts say it would be tough for him to get down to $2.50," the website says. "Our FuelFact 'truthiness' rating: According to analysts, this claim is hitting empty on the facts." The site notes analysts have long said the president—regardless of political party—can only have a limited impact on the price of gasoline since it is a globally traded commodity, and Gingrich's plan isn't blazing a new path. Check out the full feature here.
State's first brick-and-mortar app store opening in N.O. today
Smartphone and tablet junkies will be able to test-drive Apple and Android apps before buying them at Louisiana's first brick-and-mortar app store, opening on Magazine Street in New Orleans today. myPhoneApp Store—a creation of the same folks who founded the smartphone repair company myPhoneMD in New Orleans—says its primary focus will be on mobile apps created by developers based in the Crescent City. Also, apps designed specifically for the local market will be on display, including the Geaux Tigers LSU Football app, Garden District Historic Mobile Tour app and the Offbeat New Orleans Mobile app. "Like bookstores, we want to give our customers the chance to try before they buy," says co-founder Jeff Lyons. The store will not charge customers to try out new apps, and employees will give guidance and recommendations. "We've heard of app stores that make recommendations, but this would be the first real-life location where a user could actually try a recommended app for free on a device similar to their own and then download it immediately using a QR code," says Conrad Green, the company's other co-founder. Lyons and Green say they're considering opening app stores at their other Gulf Coast and East Coast locations in the coming months, but gave no specifics.
'225 Select': Wearin' the green for St. Patty's
Don your favorite green outfit on Saturday and throw your hands in the air to catch gobs of beads at the city's Wearin' of the Green St. Patrick's Day Parade. This annual romp winds through the Garden District, spreading Irish cheer and fun throws. Rock out to bagpipes and marching bands. And make sure you're dressed appropriately—or risk a pinch from frisky fellow parade-goers. The parade starts rolling at 10 a.m. More details, including the complete route, can be found here. Read the rest of this week's 225 Select e-newsletter for more local happenings this weekend and beyond here.
U.S. unemployment applications linger at 4-year low
Applications for unemployment aid across the U.S. dropped 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 351,000, matching a four-year low reached last month, according to a Labor Department report out this morning. The four-week average, which smoothes out some fluctuations in the weekly reports, was unchanged at 355,750. Applications have leveled off in the past few weeks after falling for six months. The average has declined 14% since October. When applications drop consistently below 375,000, it usually signals that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate. The steady decline in applications has coincided with the best three months of hiring in two years. From December through February, employers added an average of 245,000 jobs a month. The unemployment rate has declined to 8.3%, the lowest in three years. A separate Labor report out today says higher gas costs drove U.S. wholesale prices up last month. But excluding the big jump in gas, inflation was mostly tame. The producer price index rose 0.4% in February. The so-called core index, which excludes food and gas prices, increased 0.2%. In the past 12 months, wholesale prices have increased 3.3%. That's the smallest year-over-year gain since August 2010.
News roundup: Capitol teeming with teachers again as education battle resumes … Lafayette takes 'Tastiest Town in the South' title … Apple stock tops $600 in run-up to new iPad release
A day at a time: Hundreds of teachers and school employees are again amassing on the steps of the State Capitol today as a political battle over teacher job security continues into its second day. The Senate Education Committee is the focal point of debate today. The panel is taking up its version of legislation to expand a state-funded voucher program for private school tuition, increase charter schools and diminish seniority and tenure protections for teachers. A House panel approved similar measures Wednesday. Read Daily Report PM today for a full recap of the day's events at the Capitol from columnist John Maginnis, who is providing exclusive commentary and analysis every day during the session.
Mmmmmm: It's been a good couple of days for Lafayette. On Wednesday, the city was named the second-most optimistic city in the United States in a Gallup report. Today, Lafayette has been announced as the winner of Southern Living's "Tastiest Town in the South" online poll that's been ongoing since late last year. With 194,502 votes, Lafayette blew away the other cities on the list. Louisville was second, with 159,006 votes; and New Orleans placed third, with 57,842. Southern Living will profile each of the cities on the list and reveal the winner in its April 2012 issue. See the final vote tally here.
Anticipation building: On the day before the company's latest iPad goes on sale, Apple stock has topped $600 for the first time. The stock reached $600.01 just after the market opened, and then retreated back to about $597 in the first half-hour of trading. Apple's market capitalization is now nearly $555 billion. It topped $500 billion for the first time in late February, a market value peak which few companies have attained. Anticipation is high for Apple's latest creation. Some industry experts believe the company could sell 1 million of the new iPad on Friday, when it becomes available to the public. Apple has already stopped taking advance orders for Friday and says customers should expect a two- to three-week wait for purchases made through its online store.