Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Fri, March 30, 2012

First Bank and Trust files suit against Spinosa

First Bank and Trust is suing developer Tommy Spinosa for transferring his ownership shares in more than a dozen limited liability corporations and pieces of Gulf Coast property to a trust he and his ex-wife established prior to their divorce in 2000. Attorneys for First Bank and Trust declined to comment on the suit. Spinosa says he has not seen it, but adds he got a courtesy call from First Bank and Trust about it and believes it will be resolved out of court. "I've had a good working relationship with them for years, so I'm not really concerned about it and I don't think it's an adversarial move on their part," Spinosa says. "We've worked closely and resolved a lot of issues, but we still have some left to resolve and I believe we will." The suit suggests Spinosa moved his assets to make it more difficult for the bank to collect the $4.36 million he still owes on a $10 million loan it made to him for his Perkins Rowe development. Specifically, the lawsuit alleges Spinosa transferred his interest in 12 LLCs—as well as several pieces of property in Grand Isle, Leesville, Magnolia Ridge and Gulf Shores, Ala.—in March 2011 to the Spinosa Class Trust. Those assets were not listed as collateral on the $10 million loan, but were "inducements" that Spinosa made to First Bank when he was seeking the loan in April 2008, according to the suit. —Stephanie Riegel and Steve Sanoski   

Ascension school board buys land with eye on expansion

With plans for a new elementary school in hand—but not the $13 million it's expected to cost to build—the Ascension Parish School Board has purchased a roughly 12-acre lot at the intersection of La. 42 and Airline Highway for $975,000. "At some undetermined point in the future, we plan to put a K-5 school there, but we don't have the funding to do it right now," says schools spokesman Johnnie Balfantz. "In that area we want to help relieve schools with high student populations, such as Oakgrove Primary and Prairieville Primary, and we've also purchased other sites for future growth in other areas." The deal closed Wednesday, and the seller was Level Construction—which also has a residential development called Bullion Crossing under construction on land next to the lot purchased by the school board. "We have 87 acres total there, and we're planning to have 116 lots included in the first phase," says Level Construction partner Todd Waguespack, adding that nearly all of the roads and utilities are complete in the development. Homes should start going up in the next few months, he says, and will range in price from $180,000 to $260,000. —Steve Sanoski

Editor's note: This story has been changed since its original publication.

Survey: More Louisianans believe state is on track

The percentage of Louisianans who say the state is heading in the right direction jumped to 47% on the 2012 Louisiana Survey by LSU's Public Policy Research Lab. That's up from 41% a year ago, and is the first increase since 2008, when 51% of those surveyed said the state was heading in the right direction. However, the survey also found perceptions about the direction of the state vary widely by race, sex and party affiliation. For example:
• 53% of white respondents say the state is headed in the right direction, compared to 34% of black respondents;
• 53% of men compared to 41% of women say the state is heading in the right direction;
• 56% of Republicans say the state is headed in the right direction, compared to 37% of Democrats.
When it comes to the state and national economy, most residents do not think things are better compared to a year ago, though fewer people in the 2012 survey said conditions have gotten worse during the past year. Since 2011, the percentage of respondents saying state business conditions have gotten worse has declined from 40% to 28%. And since 2009, those saying national business conditions have gotten worse have decreased in number by 44 percentage points. This does not, however, mean that respondents believe state business conditions are necessarily improving; in fact, most respondents think things at the state level are merely stabilizing. Sponsored by LSU's Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs, the Louisiana Survey aims to serve as a barometer of statewide public opinion. The overall survey included 731 randomly selected respondents, who were polled via phone. The 2012 Louisiana Survey results are being broken out into several sections and will be released throughout this month and April. Complete survey details, results and methodology can be found here.

LaPolitics by Maginnis: Legislators feel financial stress; health-care overspending seen as culprit

Adding to early-session stress over controversial education and retirement bills are fears that the Legislature could face another big shortfall in revenue projections, causing further deep cuts in the budget. Senate sources say the pace of tax collections could cause up to a $175 million drop in anticipated funds by the time the Revenue Estimating Conference meets in May. The current budget is based on an anticipated $350 million revenue growth. But collections in the core categories—sales, personal income, corporate income—are flat, and the anticipated growth may not be fully realized. Much depends on corporate income tax returns, but those collections have swung widely in past years and that category is the most difficult to predict. Gov. Bobby Jindal's press secretary, Frank Collins, gave this statement, "As always, we're going to have a balanced budget that doesn't raise taxes and protects critical services."
—For a major cause of the pending budget crisis, the House Appropriations Committee homed in on a $678 million increase in the Department of Health and Hospitals budget. Over half of that increase, $379 million, came from higher-than-projected Medicaid utilization of private providers. This includes more people with behavioral problems seeking care in hospital emergency rooms following the state's closure of beds in mental health facilities from midyear budget cuts. Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, pressed DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein on how he plans to make ends meet in the future. "I don't see the growth in spending keeping up with the growth you have in the budget," he said. A later statement from Greenstein reads, "The [budget] increase is misleading in that it does not reflect the significant cost reduction strategies and savings that are part of DHH's budget strategy." He adds that while national Medicaid expenses have grown by 40% in the last six years, Louisiana has held that growth to 30%.

They said it: "It's not even Russian roulette, because there are no empty chambers." —Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, on the DHH budget

(John Maginnis publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, at LaPolitics.com.)

Jindal: Obama's politicized energy policy

In a guest editorial featured in the The Wall Street Journal, Gov. Bobby Jindal says the criticism President Barack Obama has been getting from Republicans regarding his administration's failure to adopt a comprehensive energy policy doesn't go far enough. "I believe that critique lets the president off too easily," Jindal says. "His administration does have a national energy policy—it's just a subservient by-product of his radical environmental policy. This administration willfully ignores rational choices that would lower energy prices and reduce U.S. reliance on foreign energy sources." In 2011, the average annual prices of a barrel of oil and a gallon of gas were higher than at any time in the last 150 years, Jindal says. "While the president is quick to tell anyone who will listen that domestic oil production is higher today than at any time since 2003, that's not the whole story," the governor says. "The truth is that today's production levels are not based on anything this president has done, but on the decisions made by private companies before he took office. And much of this production is taking place on private land." Jindal says the president should focus on increasing domestic energy sources and on decreasing the cost of that energy to consumers. "That starts with implementing a clear strategy of increasing energy production in all sectors—including the hydrocarbon sources abhorred by the left—and by providing the kind of long-term regulatory certainty that private capital demands before investment," he says. Read the full editorial here.

'225 Dine': Cupcakes come to LSU area

Cupcake bakeries have been one of the "it" entrepreneurial trends during the last few years, and Baton Rouge has gotten in on the craze with the addition of businesses like Sweet Wishes, Cupcakes n' Cream and Cupcake Couture. Now, a new bakery called Frosted Cupcakes has popped up to service the LSU area, dishing up tasty gourmet cupcakes in a variety of flavors. Co-owned and operated by LSU alumni Andi Carroll and Kyle Anderman, the bakery is a haven for connoisseurs of the mini frosted cakes. With flavors ranging from wedding cake to lemon zest, there's something on the menu for every sweet tooth. Some cupcakes even hold a sweet treat inside. For instance, the shop's "peanut butter cup" cupcakes contain a sweet peanut butter filling, and cookie dough cupcakes have a little pocket of cookie dough. Frosted Cupcakes is located on the corner of Nicholson and West Lee drives. Read the rest of this story and all of the new 255 Dine e-newsletter here.

News roundup: L'Auberge looking for dealers to train … Apple assembly line gets pay raise, fewer hours … Europe faces Easter egg quandary

Here's the deal: L'Auberge Baton Rouge Casino & Hotel has begun accepting applications for a dealer school it's hosting to teach blackjack, poker, craps and roulette. Training will begin on May 14, with day and evening classes offered, and those selected will be required to take 11 weeks of courses. Being selected for the school does not guarantee a position at the casino. Applications will be accepted now through May 4 at the L'Auberge website here, as well as at the casino's employment center at 8000 GSRI Ave., building 3100. L'Auberge, which will open by Labor Day, is expected to employ roughly 1,000 people.

Walk the line: Chinese workers who often spend more than 60 hours per week assembling iPhones and iPads will have their overtime hours curbed and their pay increased after a labor auditor hired by Apple inspected their factories. The Fair Labor Association says Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., the Taiwanese company also known as Foxconn that runs the factories in China, is committing to a reduction of weekly work time to 49 hours, the legal Chinese maximum. That limit is routinely ignored in factories throughout China. FLA CEO Auret van Heerden says Foxconn is the first Chinese company to commit to following the legal standard. Apple's and FLA's own guidelines call for a workweek of 60 hours or less.

The high price of pastels: Easter egg painting has become something of a luxury for European children this year as the egg industry has been hit by the European Union's new requirements for bigger, more animal-friendly cages for hens. The changes have limited production and, combined with high feed costs, boosted consumer prices—sometimes by as much as three times typical prices. The European Egg Processors Association says that EU-wide production of eggs since the Jan. 1 legislative change has dropped by 10% to 15%, or about 200 million eggs per week. Prices are peaking at over 2 euros ($2.60) per kilogram, says Philip Van Bosstraeten of Ovobel, an international company that makes equipment for egg processing. Get the full story from The Associated Press here.

Today's poll question: Do you agree with the U.S. Senate's vote on Thursday to kill a bill that would have removed some tax breaks for the nation's largest oil companies?

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