AP analysis: Revenue doesn't match Jindal's picture
The state's budget woes keep piling up, with income forecasts newly slashed by half a billion dollars as revenue doesn't show the rebound once predicted. But despite signs to the contrary, Gov. Bobby Jindal keeps praising the performance of the state's economy. The numbers aren't reflecting that reality, and the economists devising the state's revenue projections can't find much to praise. A combination of the lingering impact of the national recession and big-ticket tax breaks have hammered the state treasury and have created years of budget gaps, continuing again this year. Louisiana's Revenue Estimating Conference, which forecasts state income, on April 24 lowered estimates by nearly $211 million for this year, a deficit that could force deep cuts across state services in the final two months of the budget year. Meanwhile, the conference cut next year's income forecast by $304 million, meaning lawmakers also will have to find places to slash spending in the 2012-13 budget they are currently crafting. Economists working for the governor and the Legislature say income tax collections remain sluggish and well below expectations, in some categories barely keeping up with inflation. "The underlying economy is apparently weaker than it's reported to be," said Greg Albrecht, the chief economist for the Legislative Fiscal Office. Read the full analysis by The Associated Press here.
Louisiana celebrates 200 years of statehood today
When officials from the United States arrived in newly acquired Louisiana in 1804 to consider the area for statehood, they found a bewildering landscape vastly different from the New England countryside that gave birth to the nation just a few decades earlier. The federal group found a population made up almost entirely of French speakers, a third of whom were free people of color. The delegation was perplexed, said Connie Zeanah Atkinson, professor of U.S. history at the University of New Orleans. "There was a feeling that citizens must speak English," Atkinson says. "And they did not know what to do with such a large population of free people of color." In 1804, the area had only 35,932 known residents. Statehood required 60,000. Eight years later, on the eve of the War of 1812, the population had grown and Louisiana became a state. It celebrates its bicentennial today. The 200th anniversary of statehood will be celebrated with a series of events around the state, including concerts, music festivals and fireworks. On Monday, a joint session of the state Legislature will mark the anniversary with music from Cajun and New Orleans musicians: Zachary Richard, Deacon John, Jay Chevalier and Irma Thomas, among other artists from the state. Under the Louisiana Purchase, negotiated with the French Emperor Napoleon in 1803, all citizens of France in the territory were to retain the rights and privileges they enjoyed before the purchase. For the free area's blacks, who had migrated in large numbers from the Caribbean, that agreement meant they had equal rights with whites. In the other 17 U.S. states, free blacks often didn't enjoy such equality with whites. The Associated Press has the full story here.
BRAC hires new talent development director
The Baton Rouge Area Chamber announced today that it has hired Jennings native and LSU graduate Julie Laperouse as the new director of talent development, to lead BRAC's efforts to retain and attract a quality workforce. In BRAC's annual survey of local employers, finding and keeping top talent—especially in middle and upper management positions—is repeatedly listed as among the most challenging aspects of doing business in the Capital Region. BRAC has responded by beginning to implement a number of strategies and programs, including development of corporate talent services, the creation of a talent repository, and increased promotion of professional jobs in the area, as well as increased work with regional businesses to help them educate prospective hires about the region's assets. The talent retention and attraction program is among the six core strategies of The Creative Capital Agenda, BRAC's current five-year strategic plan. "Through [Laperouse's] work, we will deliver programs that retain and attract talent for the Capital Region," says BRAC President/CEO Adam Knapp. Prior to joining BRAC, Laperouse spent the past two years operating Bancroft Paper Company in Jackson, Miss. She is also the owner of a training and motivational speaking firm.
Motorists get minor reprieve at the pump
The average gas price in Baton Rouge fell 5.7 cents per gallon over the past week, according to GasBuddy.com, with an average of $3.65 a gallon on Sunday. The U.S. average also trickled down 3.3 cents per gallon over the week and was at $3.81 heading into this week. The dip in prices last week left Baton Rouge's average price for regular unleaded gas 11.9 cents per gallon lower than during the same week last year. Comparatively, the national average was 8.6 cents lower. Regardless, Gasbuddy.com Senior Petroleum Analyst Patrick DeHaan says he doesn't expect prices to continue to fall much further. "The national average now stands nearly 10 cents per gallon lower than the same date a year ago, but will we hear an end to complaining about gasoline prices at the pump? Perhaps the rhetoric will wind down, but with summer around the corner, any sudden increase in the price of gasoline will have Americans virtually calling for the heads of politicians in November," DeHaan says in a news release. GasBuddy.com operates the BatonRougeGasPrices.com website, where you can check out up-to-date prices at stations throughout the Capital Region.
BP calls for industry to adopt broader safety standards
Bernard Looney, BP's executive vice president for developments, called on the industry to adopt broader safety standards on the first day of The Offshore Technology Conference, taking place today through Thursday in Houston. "We are in absolutely no position to preach," he says. After the obligatory mentions of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the 11 men who lost their lives in it two years ago, Looney devoted much of his speech today to talking about what the industry needs to do in response. His speech used the word "industry" more than 30 times, not counting the question-and-answer session, where he also used it liberally. This has been pretty standard fare from BP for the past two years. The oil giant continues to direct the discussion outward at the industry rather than internally at its own operations. Looney, for example, called for greater transparency, saying that's the only way to earn the public's trust. Yet until last month, the company had fought to keep thousands of documents about the safety of its Atlantis platform sealed in a long-running legal battle. Later in his comments, Looney praised new industry standards calling for deepwater wells to have two concrete barriers, without frankly acknowledging that the well the Deepwater Horizon was drilling at the time of the disaster had only one such barrier. Looney, though, is head of developments for BP, and about half his speech focused on the corporation's plans for the future. BP considered abandoning its wells in the Gulf of Mexico after the disaster, but "after much soul searching" concluded it would be wrong to walk away. Read the full story here.
U.S. consumer spending slowed in March, income rose
Americans increased their spending more slowly in March, suggesting some are worried their paychecks aren't growing fast enough. The Commerce Department reports this morning that consumer spending increased just 0.3% last month after a 0.9% gain in February. Income grew 0.4% following a 0.3% gain in February. But after-tax income when adjusted for inflation increased just 0.2% in March. The gain followed two months of declines. Consumer spending accounts for 70% of economic growth. It rose 2.9% in the January-March quarter—the fastest pace in more than a year. But some people may be cutting back because of weak income gains and a sharp reduction in hiring last month. "Real incomes will need to grow at a faster rate to prevent consumption growth from slowing," says Paul Dales, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics. Dales says Friday's report on April hiring is a crucial sign of where the economy is headed. The government reported Friday that the overall economy grew at an annual rate of 2.2% in the January-March quarter, down from the 3% annual growth seen in the October-December period.
News roundup: La. pipeline spills 80,000 gallons of oil … Business spending on airfare, hotels grew in 2011, but not food … Pepsi partners with Twitter for online concerts
Sucking it up: Exxon Mobil Corp. says it is cleaning up about 80,000 gallons of oil that spilled from a pipeline in a rural Pointe Coupee Parish, northwest of Baton Rouge. The company says the pipeline was shut down Saturday night after a loss of pressure. The spilled oil was discovered on Sunday. No injuries have been reported. The company doesn't yet know what caused the pipeline to break. Exxon Mobil says vacuum trucks are cleaning up the site and air is being monitored for quality. The oil came from a 22-inch pipeline that originates in St. James Parish southeast of Baton Rouge and carries crude oil to northern Louisiana. The corporation says federal regulators have been informed and the cleanup is being coordinated with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.
Per diem: Spending on business travel continued to grow in 2011, and the biggest chunk of that money went to airfare and lodging costs, according to a new study. But it seems that business travelers are spending a bit less than formerly on food. As The Los Angeles Times reports, the average expense report filed by U.S. business travelers for airfare in 2011 was $418, up nearly 7% compared with the previous year, according to the study of expense reports analyzed by Concur Technologies Inc., the Redmond, Wash., company that provides travel expense software and online systems. The average lodging charge was about $89, up about 4%, according to the study. Together, airfare and lodging represented almost 54% of travel costs in the United States. Meanwhile, the average food expense entry was about $38, indicating a 4% decline compared with the previous year.
Birds of a feather: PepsiCo Inc. is tweeting to a new generation of music lovers. The No. 2 soda company announced this morning that it's partnering with Twitter to provide streaming videos of live music concerts to Pepsi's followers on the social networking site. The deal is part of Pepsi's new global ad campaign, which will also feature a TV ad with singer Nicki Minaj. The company, based in Purchase, N.Y., isn't yet saying which musicians will be featured on the Twitter concerts this summer. Terms of the deal with Twitter were not disclosed. The marketing push comes as Pepsi looks to revive the cola wars with the Coca-Cola Co., with up to $600 million in additional marketing slated for this year. Pepsi isn't the only one using music to tap into the youth market. Coca-Cola earlier this month announced a partnership with the online music provider Spotify. The companies are unveiling the details of their respective campaigns later this year.
Today's poll question: Do you hope legislators in the House pass a bill to create a new breakaway school district in southeast Baton Rouge, as the Senate already has done?