Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Thu, May 31, 2012

AG's ruling on homestead exemption fogs CATS tax

More questions than answers surround Wednesday's state attorney general opinion that the homestead exemption will apply after all to the recently passed CATS tax. Among them: How does the CATS board plan to make up for the shortfall that will occur as a result of factoring the homestead exemption into the 10.6-mill property tax increase? For that matter, how much will the shortfall actually be? Advocates of the tax, who campaigned for it in the special election last month, said at the time if the tax didn't pass, the transit agency faced a possible summer shutdown. Now that the tax will generate millions less than planned, how will daily operations be affected? Moreover, what does it mean for the massive overhaul of the system that voters were promised? For now, all CATS officials can say is that they're trying to assess what the decision will mean. "I think we're still trying to analyze the numbers and what the real impact will be," says CATS CEO Brian Marshall. "But we're committed to making some changes." As to the issue of whether voters were misled by the promises made in a hastily called tax election, the head of the Blue Ribbon Commission that campaigned for the tax says nonsense. "I cannot control the reaction of those who see a conspiracy behind every tree," says Rev. Raymond Jetson. "But rational thinkers will recognize there was no advantage to be gained by adding the absence of a homestead exemption to this initiative. That makes no sense." —Stephanie Riegel

The Catarie to breathe new life into The Caterie

A restaurant and live music venue called The Catarie has signed a letter of intent to fill about 3,000 square feet of a new retail and office development under construction at the intersection of South Acadian Thruway and Perkins Road. The Catarie plans to open by early September on the space formerly home to The Caterie, a popular restaurant and nightclub that was destroyed in a New Year's Day fire in 2010. Jon Claitor, a partner in the Acadian-Perkins Plaza development, says the slight name change reflects new ownership. "The former owners were not interested in coming back, but the new owners wanted to give it a similar name because they plan to have a similar menu and live music schedule as the old Caterie" had, Claitor says. The Catarie's owners are Dwaine Henderson and David Mandina—who also has an ownership stake in Mandina's Restaurant on Canal Street in New Orleans. Permits for the The Catarie were filed Wednesday with the city-parish and state, Claitor says. The Catarie is the first to commit to moving into the new 36,000-square-foot Acadian-Perkins Plaza. Claitor says the ground floor of the two-story development—which is where The Catarie will be located, as well as other retail spots—is on schedule to be completed by the end of the July. The second story, which is to be office spaces, will be finished in mid-August. Claitor says two specialty restaurants have expressed interest in the location, and he intends to announce additional signings next month. See a rendering of the development here. —Steve Sanoski

New greens coming to Country Club golf course

The Country Club of Louisiana is replacing its golf course greens this summer, a project done every 10 to 12 years as part of normal upkeep, to provide smoother playing and putting surfaces, says Ed Pippin, golf course superintendent. The Champion Bermudagrass that's been in place since the late 1990s will be taken out and Mini-Verde Bermudagrass put in. Pippin says the 18-hole golf course's greenside bunkers are also getting renovated and filled in with a pro-circuit favorite: crushed-quartz sand. Despite renovations, rounds of golf are possible on temporary greens set aside. "It's very crude, but people can still come out and play," says Pippin. The Country Club anticipates having the greens fully renovated by Aug. 31. The summertime, Pippin says, is the best season for renovations since the weather cooperates and golfers prefer to avoid its sweltering heat. "This is actually our slowest time of year," says Pippin. Besides course work, the club is also putting in a new practice putting green. This is the second overhaul of greens at The Country Club since its opening in 1986, Pippin says. He adds extreme care is being taken to keep the design as close to Jack Nicklaus' original concept as possible, with an architect on-site and surveys conducted by laser. "We're measuring with hundredths of an inch" for accuracy, he says, adding that he could not disclose the total cost of the course renovations. —Adam Pearson

Publisher: Putting a face to the reform push

As the legislative session winds down, Business Report Publisher Rolfe McCollister says we have seen historic reforms made in education, building on a battle that emerged 20 years ago on behalf of children and parents. "The idea then, as it was this session for Gov. Bobby Jindal and other reformers, was to provide parents more choices to help their children get a good education and pursue their dreams," McCollister says in his latest column. "People can discuss theories, and politicians can pontificate, but in the end, what are the real results in people's lives? The battles for this cause have been hard, and one wonders some days, Is it worth it? Does it make a difference?" For McCollister, the answer to those questions is affirmed in the story of David Thomas, who was among the first students in Louisiana to have the choice of attending a charter school in the late 1990s, when his mother, Alean, enrolled him at Children's Charter School in Baton Rouge. "This May, they reached a glorious milestone, which I had the pleasure of witnessing and celebrating. David graduated from Rhodes College in Memphis with a bachelor's degree in neuroscience," McCollister says. "This summer, David is back in Baton Rouge and working at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. He is preparing to start graduate courses at LSU this fall. Looking at David in that cap and gown with his mom is a real picture of reform—and proof the fight is worth it." Read more about Thomas' academic journey in McCollister's full column here; and send your comments to [email protected].

Roemer ends presidential run

Former Gov. Buddy Roemer today announced he is ending his campaign for presidency of the United States, citing a lack of ballot access in all 50 states as a primary difficulty for his candidacy. Roemer was never a part of the 23 nationally televised GOP debates. Nevertheless, he claims receiving "7% of the popular vote in a national poll conducted a few weeks ago," without citing the poll. Over the last 17 months, Roemer says he accepted no political contribution that was more than $100, including no political action committee money, Super PAC money and corporate money. "We ran like we would serve—Free to Lead," Roemer says in letter on his website, announcing the end of his campaign. "To protect that freedom, we fully disclosed every contribution." Roemer, who served as governor of Louisiana from 1988 to 1992, spent much of his campaign decrying the big money from special interest groups and corporations that pours into presidential and congressional campaigns, saying that 98% of the electorate does not donate a penny. "If we are to become a practicing republic again, we must end the addiction to special interest money," Roemer says. He goes on to say he will lobby for campaign reform in the future. You can read Roemer's complete letter here.

Exploratory drilling a gamble in deep Gulf

Recent weeks have revealed two failures in exploratory offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico that serve as a reminder of the high stakes involved in the gamble that is deepwater oil-prospecting, The Houston Chronicle reports. On May 23, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. admitted defeat at its Spartacus project, where the company sunk $20 million for pay dirt and came up dry. On May 18, the Spanish oil firm Repsol also said it came up dry off the northern coast of Cuba, where it spent about $100 million in political and financial capital for exploratory drilling. Such failed bids aren't uncommon in the Gulf. Some estimates say only one of four exploratory wells strike black gold and that the success rate decreases in frontier regions, dropping odds to one in nine. But the successes keep oil companies returning to drill. A Chevron drilling superintendent told The Houston Chronicle in 2010 that despite advancements in seismic research, computer modeling and geophysical surveys, drilling is a big gamble at thousands of feet below the seabed. Outside Cuba, the Malaysian state-owned oil company Petronas plans to drill in nearby waters with the same rig Repsol used.

News roundup: Shoppers cautiously pushed up spending in May … FCC reporting regulations eased in bill passed by House … Finally, a thermostat for hipsters

Ring it up: Americans loosened their purse strings in May to update their wardrobes with bright new styles and take advantage of Mother's Day promotions. Major retailers including Target Corp., Macy's Inc. and Limited Brands Inc. all posted bigger-than-expected gains from a year ago. The modest but healthy gains followed a dismal showing in April, when retailers on average posted their weakest performance since November 2009. Only a handful of retailers representing roughly 13% of the U.S. retail industry report monthly sales figures based on stores open at least a year, which is a key measure of health because it excludes the impact of newly opened and closed stores. Get the full details on the May spending report from The Associated Press here.

Stoking competition: Communications businesses and regulators are restrained by many expensive and unnecessary reports, according to Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, but a bill he sponsored to streamline federal reporting requirements was approved Wednesday by the U.S. House, The Times-Picayune reports. Scalise's bill would consolidate eight annual Federal Communication Commission reports into a single biennial report and eliminate some reporting responsibilities. The bill was praised in the House for fostering competition and for encouraging innovation and lowering of prices in the communications industry. However, it's not clear whether the Senate will consider the legislation.

Climate control: Your home thermostat can now be controlled with your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or Mac computer, with the Apple Store's release of the Nest Learning Thermostat. While it costs about five times as much as a regular thermostat—$250—the pricey gadget's maker, Tony Fadell, claims it can save up to 30% off your utility bill by using artificial intelligence to control your house's temperature. The Nest thermostat is also available at the company's website and Lowe's. It has been on the market since the end of 2011 and has received rave reviews from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Gizmodo.

Today's poll question: Do you think the LSU Tigers will make it to the College World Series this year?

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