Gambit editor Kevin Allman appeared on last night's Informed Sources on WYES-TV to discuss this week's tumult and realignment in the local media world with The Times-Picayune and The Advocate. The panel included host Larry Lorenz, producer Errol Laborde, reporter Dawn Ostrom and WWL-TV investigative reporter David Hammer.
The show isn't embeddable, but you can watch here.
Louisiana's House Committee on House and Governmental Affairs failed to pass a bill which would "prohibit discrimination in state employment on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression."
Authored by State Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, who in 2011 introduced a bill to protect gay students from bullying, House Bill 85 would allow gay state employees who were discriminated against to appeal to the state Civil Service Commission. Current law allows discrimination appeals based on discrimination of political beliefs, sex or race and, provides for hearings and decisions in those cases. Current law does not include provisions for gay employees.
The Louisiana Family Forum argued the bill would create "a target-rich environment for lawsuits" and afford "special" rights to gay employees.
The committee voted 6-3 against the bill.
The Advocate, which moved into the New Orleans market from Baton Rouge earlier this year in response to The Times-Picayune going to a three-day-per-week production schedule, has been sold to New Orleans businessman and sometime-political candidate John Georges. The announcement of the "Georges Media Group" and its buy will be announced officially on Wednesday at a 10 a.m. press conference at The Advocate's Bluebonnet Road offices, which will be attended by Gov. Bobby Jindal and various politicos and dignitaries.
In an interview tonight, Georges said he would be getting his first look at the physical paper when he walks through the newsroom and plant tomorrow. "I've wanted to buy The Advocate for two years now," he said, adding that the deal was finalized just today.
Georges had signed a letter of intent in March to buy the paper from the Manship family, which had owned it for 100 years. Publisher David Manship, who had been publicly ambivalent about the family's sale, sent an email to employees tonight saying, "I can tell you personally I am happy that such a passionate and reputable Louisiana family is taking the helm."
"It got complicated when they [The Advocate] decided to come into the New Orleans market last year," Georges said. "Negotiations stalled for six months."
Georges, who has never owned a media company, has had a wide variety of businesses (including a paper boy route for The Times-Picayune at age 15). Most of his ventures have been successful. The New Orleans native and Tulane University graduate built his company, Imperial Trading, into a distributor for convenience stores across the South. Its parent company, Georges Enterprises, has had a wide variety of holdings, including video poker machines. In 2007, the longtime Republican ran for governor as an independent and was defeated by Jindal. In 2009, he purchased Galatoire's, the city's old-line restaurant (which has a spinoff, Galatoire's Bistro, in Baton Rouge), and ran for mayor of New Orleans as a Democrat in a hotly contested race which he ultimately lost to Mitch Landrieu.
Asked if people thought he was crazy to be getting into the newspaper business at a time when the future of newspapers seemed dim, Georges said, "Warren Buffett and the Koch brothers are getting into it. I don’t know who says it's crazy."
Over the past several weeks, conservative lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee have questioned if, not when, the budget will be passed during the ongoing session that adjourns June 6. That means, not long after Gov. Bobby Jindal has “parked” his controversial tax swap plan, his budget could be stalling.
More recently, a few have even looked farther down the road in case there’s actually a head-on collision. “There’s more talk in the hallways about coming back for a special session on the budget than anything else,” says Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, chairman of the Budget Reform Coalition and a founding “fiscal hawk.”
The weeks leading up to Jindal’s speech last Monday brought tensions to a critical mass. The business lobby vowed opposition to Jindal’s plan, research groups questioned its math and public opinion tanked on the idea of exchanging personal income taxes for a significantly broader — and higher — sales tax.
The governor won lots of praise from national conservative think tanks, but inside Louisiana, the worm turned quickly against him — and against House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles. Endorsed for the gavel by Jindal and easily the governor’s most reliable legislative ally in the current term, Kleckley had delivered on education and retirement reforms last year and so far has kept the lid on serious budget objections from fellow GOP conservatives, known as the fiscal hawks.
As before, Jindal hoped Kleckley would keep the troops in line behind his tax-swap proposal, but House members urged the speaker to slow down the plan. Days after public opinion polls showed Louisiana voters solidly against Jindal’s proposal, Kleckley obliged his colleagues by pushing back the bill’s start date, explaining he wanted to wait until the Legislative Fiscal Office released its analysis. That meant a delay of at least two weeks, possibly more.
Against that backdrop, Jindal’s opening-day announcement that he had decided to “park” his plan was universally described as a defeat for the governor — if not an abdication on his part. Jindal effectively punted the entire issue of tax reform to lawmakers, urging them to find a way to pay for eliminating individual income taxes but offering no alternatives himself.
State Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, filed legislation today that would allow the state to lease New Orleans Adolescent Hospital (NOAH) to Ochsner Health Systems in June should Children's Hospital does not agree to reopen NOAH for child and adolescent mental health services.
The bill follows last week's dispute after the lawmaker announced to the New Orleans City Council that Children's signed a lease and agreed to reopen the hospital, which Children's denied.
Children's spokesman Brian Landry confirmed the hospital signed the lease in order to meet the deadline and continue negotiations with the state, adding that Abramson was "accurate with the current lease agreement requirements, but what's also in that lease is our ability to cancel the lease. He knew we were intending to cancel the lease if we're unsuccessful in lifting the restrictions.
The lease requires Children's to reopen NOAH and provide services similar to those it provided before its closure, pursuant to a 2012 law that authorized the lease.
“If [Children's] fail to exercise the agreement under their right of first refusal, the bill provides that we can move on to the next person," Abramson said in a phone interview today. And the next person is Ochsner.
(More after the jump)
Carlos Sanchez, the managing editor of NOLA Media Group's new Baton Rouge bureau, has resigned after less than six months on the job, multiple sources within the company have told Gambit.
A memo co-signed by editor Jim Amoss and the director of state news and sports, James O'Byrne, went out to NOLA Media Group staffers in the last two hours, saying Sanchez was resigning for family reasons and returning to Texas, where he wrote about politics for the Austin American-Statesman and served as editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald for several years before being let go in a Trib-Herald companywide layoff in 2011.
Sanchez was hired by NOLA Media Group last fall to helm its expanded bureau in Baton Rouge. In January, he created a stir within the company when — on the eve of President Barack Obama's second inauguration — the Baton Rouge bureau posted an online poll asking "Should we wish President Obama well in his second term?". That poll, which was the subject of dismay and some derision in the New Orleans office, where it was seen as "clickbait," has been removed from the NOLA.com site:
NOLA Media Group's Baton Rouge bureau also came under fire earlier this month in a lengthy, critical story by Ryan Chittum of the Columbia Journalism Review — a story that triggered anger within the NOLA Media Group and, according to some current and past employees, a search for internal sources who may have spoken to Chittum. In tracing the changes at The Times-Picayune from a daily to a thrice-weekly publication with a digital focus, Chittum wrote:
The Baton Rouge bureau, under the purview of James O’Byrne, the former NOLA.com editor, is widely viewed internally as an embarrassment. The second sentence of one November story’s lede would be hard to imagine in a high-school paper: “Fortunately for the citizens of the Red Stick, local law enforcement continue to team up with state legislators and federal agencies to ensure stricter drug enforcement laws and regulations make it onto the books.”
Today's memo from O'Byrne and Amoss said that NOLA Media Group would be undertaking a national search to replace Sanchez. A call to NOLA Media Group's Baton Rouge office was not immediately returned.
(UPDATE: Sanchez has posted a farewell letter, saying, in part, "In the end, it came down to leaving one of the boldest experiments in American journalism today in favor of my family, still living in Texas. In short, there was no choice." He also praises the head of Baton Rouge's Downtown Development District.)
Jefferson Parish Council Chairman Chris Roberts and Councilman-at-large Elton Lagasse have sent an open letter to state representatives, asking them to call off the special election in May that would have voters (again) determine the fate of the now-suspended tolls on the Crescent City Connection.
Roberts and Lagasse also announced that the council would act on a formal resolution requesting the state legislature to "save the cost of the election which would be incurred by the State of Louisiana."
Letter under the jump.
Zack Kopplin, the 19-year-old Rice University student and Louisiana native who's spent the last two years advocating for repeal of the Louisiana Science Education Act, was named the inaugural "Troublemaker of the Year" by a private foundation that seeks to honor people in their teens who stir up, well, trouble:
What kind of trouble? The good kind — when you are not afraid to speak your mind on important matters even when everyone around you disagrees, when you take a risk and bend social norms for a greater good, when you pick a direction and go for it, even if others tell you to turn around.
The troublemakers that the award seeks are young women and men from around the globe, who demonstrate inspiration, original thinking, leadership and outstanding commitment to their troublemaking cause. Their activism not only turns heads, but also delivers tangible positive impact on their local community, home town, country, or perhaps the entire planet Earth.
The organization, founded by self-described "angel investor and serial entrepreneur" Semyon Dukach, awarded Kopplin a $10,000 prize.
Zack’s bold campaign to repeal the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) has made waves in state politics and in public education. Kopplin has gathered the support of 78 Nobel Laureate scientists, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the New Orleans City Council, and other major organizations. His petition to repeal the law has 74,000 supporters across the US. Working with Louisiana State Senator Karen Carter Peterson, Zack has fought for two bills to repeal the LSEA. He has spoken out before the Louisiana legislature and State Board of Education, debated creationist politicians, held rallies, and had been covered in hundreds of interviews in national and international media. Kopplin is preparing to fight for a third repeal bill.
Read Gambit's 2011 profile of Kopplin here.
A national survey of state and local tax codes by Washington think tank the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) shows that Louisiana's poorest residents pay the highest levels of state and local taxes as a percent of income — more than twice the relative burden on the state's highest earners — due in large part to combined local and state sales taxes.
The ITEP study comes as the state's political leaders ponder a major tax code overhaul. Gov. Bobby Jindal has called for the elimination of personal income and corporate taxes, possibly replacing the revenue with increases in sales taxes, already among the highest in the country.
According to the study, released this month, the poorest 20 percent of state residents — average income $10,000 — pay 10.6 percent of their income in state and local taxes on average, with the overwhelming majority coming from sales taxes. Louisianians in next 20 percent — $22,000 average income — generally pay 10.5 percent, again mostly in sales taxes. In contrast, the wealthiest one percent — a group whose average income is $979,000 — pay only 4.6 percent of their income in state and local taxes, with the largest share coming from personal income taxes.
Under its current laws, the state did not make it into ITEP's list of the ten most regressive tax systems, where the poorest residents have the highest tax burden. In fact, Louisiana's poorest 20 percent actually pay a smaller share of taxes than the national average for the same group: 11.1 percent. The burden on the next 20 percent, however, is above the national average of 10 percent, and the burden for the richest Louisiana residents is below the national average of 5.6 percent.
The report's findings suggest Jindal's plan could mean significantly higher taxes on the poor. Four of the states on the list don't levy a personal income tax. These include the two most regressive in the country, Washington and Florida, where the bottom 20 percent pay 16.9 percent and 13.2 percent, respectively, of their income in state and municipal taxes. Tennessee, another state on the most regressive list, collects taxes on interest and dividends from investments but not on regular income. Known as the Hall Income Tax, it produced only $184 million during the 2011 fiscal year, less than two percent of $10.5 billion total state tax collections that year.
The governor's office has pledged to mitigate the impact of any sales tax increase for the poor. But with the state legislature set to convene in April, Jindal is yet to release the details of the plan.
Read the full report “Who Pays? A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in All 50 States" whopaysreport_1_.pdf
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