QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"I also wish I could tell you, sort of embarrassingly so, that in Orleans Parish I had a police department that I could point to with a lot of pride. I wish I could say that they were as effective or efficient as the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, or that they were able to investigate cases as effectively as the FBI. But, in all honesty, I can't tell you that." — New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, at an Aug. 19 forum on public corruption held in Jefferson Parish (Source: WWL-AM)
GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS
First, the bad news: according to estimates offered by the state, the next three fiscal years will see an unprecedented, collective $5 billion shortfall. But there's good news as well: a recent study by the nonpartisan American Legislative Exchange Council ranks Louisiana's economic outlook 18th among the 50 states. The ranking is up from 21st in last year's study.
In its 2009 report, the council ranked Louisiana number one, or in some cases tied for number one, in several categories, including "Recently Legislated Tax Changes," "Right-to-Work" laws and "Estate/Inheritance Tax Levied." The analysis also scored Louisiana in the top 10 for "Property Tax Burden" rates and "Number of Tax or Expenditure Limits," 11th for "Top Marginal Personal Income Tax Rate" and 12th in the category of "Top Marginal Corporate Income Tax Rate." The report, "Rich States, Poor States: ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index," offers a bright spot in an otherwise rotten economy. "The top performing states keep taxes, spending and regulatory burdens low, while the biggest losers in the book tend to share similar policies of high tax rates, unsustainable spending and regulation," said Jonathan Williams, co-author of the council's publication. "State governments that believe they can bring about economic recovery by growing government and increasing taxes are sadly mistaken." — Jeremy Alford
'We'll Be Back'
Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, was recently recognized as "Legislator of the Year" by the Southwest Chamber for his unsuccessful efforts to pass a package of school board reform bills that proponents said would have improved the quality of Louisiana's public education system. Among the more controversial elements of the package was a bill aimed at discouraging school boards from micromanaging their superintendents; that measure fell six votes short of passing the House. "We weren't successful this year, but we will be back," Carter says. "I'd ask those legislators who weren't with us last time to consider supporting us next time." — Alford
ON VITTER'S FLANK
A former volunteer fire chief who bills himself as a "conservative independent" is among the first candidates to announce a challenge to U.S. Sen. David Vitter next year. William Robert "Bob" Lang of Natchitoches is a combat veteran who served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. Lang says he is a strict constitutionalist and believes the federal government should "return immediately to the original intent of the Constitution that our brilliant founding fathers so skillfully created."
Anthony "Tony G" Gentile of Mandeville, who ran for governor in 2007, has also announced he will be running as a conservative independent. Gentile, who ran unsuccessfully in the First Congressional District, describes himself as an "everyday person." He says his recent political defeats shouldn't be held against him. "Losing is a part of life. It makes winning that much more rewarding," Gentile says.
As for more high-profile candidates, there is still no word from the Big Three, all of whom have been looking at a bid against Vitter: Shaw CEO Jim Bernhard, a Democrat; Secretary of State Jay Dardenne, a Republican; and U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, a Democrat. — Alford
AMERICA'S NEXT TOP HURRICANE MODEL
As three Atlantic storms stirred in waters south and east of Louisiana, a new approach to hurricane modeling is not only bringing in major research dollars for LSU, but it also could help communities in south Louisiana better prepare for the inevitable events that go along with living near the Gulf of Mexico. Q. Jim Chen, LSU associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and his team are developing computer models that rely on open source capabilities, meaning anyone can access the computer software and modify or edit it, which in turn could lead to even more breakthroughs. The work has already produced a number of educational opportunities that aren't available anywhere else in the nation, including the LSU High School Scholarship in Coastal Engineering, the LSU Minority Fellowship in Coastal Engineering and a new graduate program in coastal and ecological engineering. These opportunities have opened up because the so-called Chen Group concluded that inadequate coastal engineering research and education in the Gulf Coast region prior to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was reflected in the failures of the civil engineering infrastructure. "If we can not only produce a well-educated group of coastal engineers, but also arm them with the most advanced tools available for their field, I think we'll start to see a difference in how the Gulf Coast fares during future hurricanes and coastal events," says Chen.
Specifically, the Chen Group is developing a new coastal-modeling technique that combines hurricane waves and storm surge, producing what he says is the most comprehensive modeling system currently available. In traditional coastal models, wind waves and storm surges are treated as two separate hydrodynamic processes, but Chen says they interact and influence each other in coastal waters and should be considered together. "Simulations of storm surges and coastal waves are intrinsically complex, owing to the highly variable and non-linear boundary conditions involved, such as sea surface and coastal landscapes," says Chen. The Chen Group's work is unique because it has found an innovative way to develop models simulating the impacts of both storm surge and wind waves using the high-performance computing technology available at LSU.
After Hurricane Katrina, the Chen Group first coupled its two state-of-the-art computer models simulating storm surge and wind waves generated by the storm. The research, however, has only recently begun to pay dividends. For instance, it was selected a few years ago for the National Science Foundation's Career Grant, a prestigious award. Since then, Chen has gone on to raise more than $1.5 million for the program, and hard data has been surfacing. Last year, Chen and his research team also looked at storm surge and wind waves generated by Hurricane Gustav to analyze the interaction between these two factors and the coastal landscape. — Alford
BEWARE THE WEEVIL
Planting ornamental cotton is an emerging trend in the landscaping industry, but they're also a cause for concern among state officials. That's because the plants, which can be a beautiful addition to any yard, can sometimes be infested with boll weevils. By law, anyone who wants to plant cotton for non-commercial purposes must receive prior permission from the Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry. "We need to know where all the cotton plants are located throughout the state to monitor for the boll weevil to protect Louisiana's cotton industry," says Todd Parker, an LDAF assistant commissioner. "The (department) puts out more than 100,000 traps in cotton fields annually to check for the presence of boll weevils."
Parker says more and more gardeners outside of traditional cotton-growing areas are planting cotton to spruce up their garden landscapes. Others plant small plots for fiber to spin their own thread. Even though it sounds like a hobby, the law states that LDAF must place a boll weevil trap at these locations because historically they are cotton's most destructive pest. All cotton-growing states have similar eradication programs, Parker says.
Cotton remains one of Louisiana's leading crops and was worth more than $200 million to the state in 2007, but it declined in 2008 due to harvesting issues caused by hurricanes Gustav and Ike. The 2008 numbers totaled more than 290,000 acres planted with a gross farm value of $134 million. — Alford