Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Mon, May 21, 2012

Capitol Views by Maginnis: Tax break expansion proposed for major projects

A proposed constitutional amendment would expand the kinds of new businesses that could be exempt from local property taxes. On its way to the Senate floor are companion bills to add a new category for non-manufacturing commercial investments to those eligible for the 10-year industrial tax exemption. With at least a $25 million investment and 50 percent of company sales out of state, eligible projects would include corporate headquarters, distribution facilities, data services facilities, research-and-development operations, and digital media and software development centers. The legislation also calls for the first $10 million of fair market value (or 10 percent, whichever is greater) invested in the project to be taxed normally. “This is a very surgically targeted effort,” said Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret, who said in his four and a half years as economic development secretary he could not think of three projects that would have met the proposed new eligibility. He said Louisiana is at a strong disadvantage competing for such large-scale projects now because local business property taxes are double those in average Southern states.

Participation would be voluntary for local governments and would require the approval of the parish governing authority, sheriff, assessor, school board and municipalities. The only opposition to HB 674 and 694 came from state assessors, whose counsel Bryan Eddington cited concerns over lawsuits for discriminatory practices, depending on the kinds of businesses approved, and the lack of oversight by local bodies once they opt into a project. Read the full column here for additional coverage on a push to repeal paperless tax refunds in the state.

Editors note: This story has been changed since its original publication.

(John Maginnis will publish a daily update throughout the legislative session on Daily Report PM. The report is also available to LaPolitics Weekly subscribers on the Subscribers Only page at LaPolitics.com. Registration is available on the homepage.)

Louisiana Public Broadcasting is providing a daily video update featuring highlights of the session, which you can see beginning at 6 p.m. here.

Breakaway school district feasibility study unlikely to be ready in time for Legislature's vote

A study analyzing the feasibility of the proposed breakaway school district in East Baton Rouge Parish is unlikely to be ready before the expected vote by the state House of Representatives on Thursday. While the study, commissioned by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and performed by economist Jim Richardson, may not be available to inform the Legislature's vote, BRAC spokesman Mike Odom says it will serve as a resource for voters if they are asked to consider approving the district this fall. Odom says it could also provide a template for other independent school districts in the future. The study will go beyond simply looking into the proposed district in southeast East Baton Rouge Parish to examine "the infrastructure and legacy costs issues of multiple independent school districts to determine their feasibility based on potential revenues, liability infrastructure capacity, and student demographic perspectives," chamber CEO Adam Knapp says. —David Jacobs

'Business Report' planner: PRAL to hear Tuesday about launch of large Katrina campaign … Livingston Parish Chamber hosts Leads for Lunch Wednesday … Social Media association meets Thursday

Tuesday — The Public Relations Association of Louisiana–Baton Rouge Chapter's monthly meeting will begin at 11:30 a.m. at Juban's, 3739 Perkins Road. A presentation called "Katrina and Beyond—Launching a Major New Hurricane Exhibit to National Fanfare" will be made by Larry Lovell, public relations management supervisor for Peter A. Mayer Advertising. He will discuss how in early 2010, the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans began working with Peter Mayer Public Relations to develop and implement a comprehensive PR strategy and promotional campaign to launch its new $7.5-million hurricane exhibit opening later in the year. Registration at the restaurant the day of the meeting begins at 11:30 a.m., followed by the welcome and lunch at noon, and then the main program. Online registration and complete details are available here.

Wednesday — The Livingston Parish Chamber of Commerce hosts a Leads for Lunch networking luncheon from 11:30 to 1 p.m. at Wholly Ground Coffee House, 27988 Walker South Road, in Walker. Admission, including lunch, is $12. Guests are welcome to participate and learn more about chamber membership and issues. Online registration is available here.

Thursday — BRSocMe holds its monthly luncheon meeting at the Louisiana Technology Park, 7117 Florida Blvd., beginning at noon. Ned Fasullo, vice president of sales and marketing at Transformx Inc. and creator of the TechX Conference & Expo held annually in Baton Rouge, will be the featured speaker in a discussion about all things digital media. Lunch is provided free for professional level BRSocMe members; it's $10 for nonmembers.

For the full list of upcoming events, click here.

$3.4B school funding formula sails through Senate

The Senate has approved a $3.4 billion public school funding formula that also will help finance Gov. Bobby Jindal's new statewide voucher program to send students to private schools with taxpayer money. Senators spent little time today discussing the multibillion-dollar spending plans before voting 26-10 for the formula. The proposal will keep spending per student flat for a fourth straight year. The only financing increase, about $33 million, comes because new students have been added to the formula. Lawmakers can only approve or reject the formula, called the Minimum Foundation Program, or MFP, submitted by the state education board. Critics of the voucher program have said they expect to file a lawsuit challenging the planned financing through a formula that was designed to pay for public schools.

Chemical plant fire injures 1, causes evacuation and highway closure

One person was injured, scores of people were evacuated and part of U.S. Highway 190 near Port Allen is closed by a fire at a plant that refills acetylene cylinders. Air Liquide spokesman George Smalley says a worker suffered a minor injury. He says the fire is in a yard where empty cylinders are kept at Air Liquide Specialty Gases. Acetylene, a chemical typically used in welding torches, is trucked to the plant. Smalley says he doesn't know how many cylinders caught fire. State police Capt. Doug Cain says residents and businesses within a mile of the plant were evacuated. He says about 60 people are at evacuation centers in Port Allen and Erwinville as of this afternoon. The fire broke out about 10:30 a.m. today at the plant in West Baton Rouge Parish and was still burning in early afternoon. Air Liquide is an international producer of gases used in industry and health care. The company's website says its products include oxygen, nitrogen, argon and rare gases. Its headquarters are in Paris. State environmental authorities say they are monitoring air quality.

Arraigned Alabama fan pleads not guilty

The Alabama fan seen on a video apparently committing sexual battery on an unconscious LSU fan after the BCS championship football game pleaded not guilty today at a hearing in Orleans Parish Criminal Court. Brian Downing, 32, of Smiths Station, Ala., was arraigned on one count each of sexual battery of a male victim and obscenity. "We tried to get the judge to reduce the bond, but he left it at $50,000," says Downing's attorney, Michael Kennedy." A video that went viral on the Internet appeared to show someone in a University of Alabama jacket abusing an unconscious LSU fan after Alabama beat LSU for the BCS football championship on Jan. 9. In the video, a man appears to perform a simulated sex act on the LSU fan. The LSU fan, whose name has not been released, has filed a civil lawsuit against Downing. The lawsuit does not specify a dollar figure for damages. It says the LSU fan suffered "mental anguish, humiliation, embarrassment, anxiety and depression … damage to reputation" and lost tuition payments "for having to withdraw from school." Downing has not been served with that suit, Kennedy says. Since the alleged incident, Kennedy says, Downing's life has been reduced to scraping by on his wife's salary and money received from their families. The couple has an 8-month-old son. Kennedy says Downing was fired from his job due to the charges and is not receiving unemployment. The trial date has been set for Sept. 4, Kennedy says. A pretrial hearing will be held July 23.

News roundup: La.'s new voucher program begins to take shape … Welfare card restriction bill stalled in Senate … Say what? The odyssey of Kraft's new name

A new subject: Details of a new school voucher program in Louisiana will soon be taking shape. Friday was the deadline for private schools to apply to the state if they want to be able to accept students who take part in the program, which will pay government-funded private school tuition for some Louisiana students. State education officials were compiling information on the applicants today. Meanwhile, families who want their children to take part in the program known as Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence can begin applying on Tuesday. The program is for students who are from low- to moderate-income families and who attend public schools that earned a "C," "D" or "F" under the state's school accountability program. Complete details on the program and student applications are available at the Louisiana Department of Education website here.

Benefits transfer: A bill prohibiting welfare recipients from spending their assistance dollars on alcohol or cigarettes and preventing them from withdrawing that money as cash has been put on hold. The Senate Finance Committee decided today to stall the measure by Rep. Cameron Henry, R-New Orleans, while senators work on next year's $25 billion state operating budget. An estimated $454,000 cost tied to Henry's bill, for tweaking the system that monitors the electronic benefits card, has some lawmakers debating the usefulness of a proposal that targets only a small percentage of transactions. The card is issued to welfare recipients and functions like a debit card. Henry argues there are records of the card being abused. He says even one person's abuse of his or her welfare money is enough to warrant the legislation.

Naming names: "MONDEWHAAAAT?" The sarcasm was palpable in the one-word headline that appeared in The New York Post on the day after Kraft Foods revealed that it planned to name its new global snack business "Mondelez," an interpretation of a mash-up of the Latin words for "world" and "delicious." But that wasn't the only dig. One blogger teased that she would have been "stifling giggles" if she'd been in meetings to determine the name. A Forbes contributor suggested a trick for remembering how to say it: "Just think Bush administration secretary of state. You know, Mon-de-leza Rice." Crain's Business Chicago tittered that it bears close resemblance to a vulgar Russian term for a sexual act. Michael Mitchell, a Kraft spokesman, says executives are taking all the joking in stride. On Wednesday, Kraft shareholders will decide whether to approve the name for the company's business that sells global snack brands such as Oreos, Fig Newton and Cadbury. Find out how a four-month odyssey led to the selection of "Mondelez" in the full article by The Associated Press here.

Sign up for E-Newsletters