Baton Rouge

Friday, February 16, 2018

Once more, into the ditch: State lawmakers about to begin a fifth special session to deal with Louisiana's deficit

Posted By on Fri, Feb 16, 2018 at 12:14 PM

In this file photo, Louisiana House speaker Taylor Barras, Gov. John Bel Edwards and Louisiana Senate president John Alario confer. - PHOTO BY SARAH GAMARD
  • PHOTO BY SARAH GAMARD
  • In this file photo, Louisiana House speaker Taylor Barras, Gov. John Bel Edwards and Louisiana Senate president John Alario confer.

Gov. John Bel Edwards has summoned state lawmakers into a fifth special session in just over two years to deal once more with Louisiana’s structural deficit. The session runs Feb. 19 through March 7. Its focus is a roughly $1 billion fiscal “cliff” in the form of temporary taxes that expire June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.

Is there any reason to think the outcome this time will differ significantly from previous efforts?

Not really, though it’s not because the stakes aren’t high enough.

Lawmakers all know the problem: Louisiana has a recurring deficit because our tax system doesn’t generate enough money to support state spending.

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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Remembering a tireless advocate: Johnny Jackson Jr.

Posted By on Thu, Feb 1, 2018 at 7:17 PM

Johnny Jackson Jr. in 1991.
  • Johnny Jackson Jr. in 1991.
There aren’t many first-generation civil rights leaders left in New Orleans, and we lost another one Jan. 24 when former City Councilman and state Rep. Johnny Jackson Jr. died after a battle with cancer at the age of 74.

A tireless advocate for civil and human rights his entire life, Jackson was a consummate activist who reluctantly entered public life after serving as a community organizer in the Desire-Florida neighborhoods of New Orleans’ hardscrabble Ninth Ward.

Jackson grew up in Desire and knew its people and its struggles first hand. He served as director of the Desire Community Center during a 1970 standoff between New Orleans cops and local members of the Black Panther Party, who used the center that Jackson led to offer breakfast and tutoring programs for children, according to a story in The Advocate.

The next year, black voters in New Orleans saw their first real opportunity to elect one of their own in the state House of Representatives district that included Desire. Jackson was recruited by the nascent Ninth Ward political organization SOUL to run for the seat.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Six French Quarter strip clubs settle with Louisiana ATC on eve of hearing

Posted By on Wed, Jan 31, 2018 at 7:10 PM

Hours after strip-club workers held a demonstration in the French Quarter, the Louisiana Office of Alcohol & Tobacco Control announced it had settled with six of the eight strip clubs that were raided in January. - PHOTO BY KAT STROMQUIST
  • PHOTO BY KAT STROMQUIST
  • Hours after strip-club workers held a demonstration in the French Quarter, the Louisiana Office of Alcohol & Tobacco Control announced it had settled with six of the eight strip clubs that were raided in January.

Six of the French Quarter strip clubs that had emergency license suspensions in place after raids by the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) and Office of Alcohol & Tobacco Control (ATC) officials have agreed to settlements with the ATC on the night before they were supposed to have hearings with the regulatory agency.

"The hearings would determine whether the emergency suspensions served on the clubs were justified and, if so, what penalties were appropriate," the ATC said in a press release. "The settlement reached with the ATC negates the need for hearings for these clubs."


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Monday, January 29, 2018

State GOP leaders tell governor's office they will offer some budget solutions this week

Posted By and on Mon, Jan 29, 2018 at 7:12 PM

Louisiana House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, told the governor’s office that Republican lawmakers would offer cost-saving proposals on Tuesday and identify possible areas on Friday for possibly raising state revenue. - PHOTO BY SARAH GAMARD/MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE
  • PHOTO BY SARAH GAMARD/MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE
  • Louisiana House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, told the governor’s office that Republican lawmakers would offer cost-saving proposals on Tuesday and identify possible areas on Friday for possibly raising state revenue.

Louisiana House Speaker Taylor Barras told Gov. John Bel Edwards' office Monday that Republican lawmakers would offer several cost-saving proposals on Tuesday and identify areas for possibly raising state revenue on Friday, aides to the governor said Monday.

Proposals by the Republicans could break a stalemate with the governor and start talks that could determine whether Edwards will call a special legislative session in February to deal with the state’s looming budget shortfall.

Barras could not be reached for comment, but Richard Carbo, Edwards’ deputy chief of staff, said the speaker had told the governor’s chief of staff, Mark Cooper, about the GOP’s plans this week. Tucker Barry, the governor’s press secretary, said Edwards expects to hear from House Speaker Taylor Barras tomorrow. As far as whether a proposal appears, Barry said, “We should be hopeful.”

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Friday, January 26, 2018

Edwards, GOP legislative leaders continue to cross swords over details of Edwards' budget plan

Posted By and on Fri, Jan 26, 2018 at 5:16 PM

Republican Caucus Chairman Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, is one of the many GOP legislators who has criticized the governor's budget proposal for lacking detail.
  • Republican Caucus Chairman Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, is one of the many GOP legislators who has criticized the governor's budget proposal for lacking detail.

As the window for calling a special session tightens, Gov. John Bel Edwards and House Republican leaders still are fencing over the details of his doomsday budget proposal and whether the Republicans will come up with an alternative plan next week.

Neither side has offered definitive numbers on its ideas to close the state’s nearly $1 billion budget gap, and both have criticized the other for not bringing enough detail to the table.

“In my opinion, the governor’s plan needs some work,” Republican Caucus Chairman Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, said in an interview Friday. “We have to have details of exactly who you're going to tax, how you’re going to tax, before we can even begin to make an intelligent decision on behalf of our constituents.”

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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Editorial: Lawmakers, quit passing the buck on the governor's proposed budget and offer some solutions

Posted By on Thu, Jan 25, 2018 at 1:56 PM

Gov. John Bel Edwards, left, and Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne presented the governor’s budget proposal for fiscal 2019 to a joint legislative committee Jan. 22. - PHOTO BY SARAH GAMARD/MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE
  • PHOTO BY SARAH GAMARD/MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE
  • Gov. John Bel Edwards, left, and Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne presented the governor’s budget proposal for fiscal 2019 to a joint legislative committee Jan. 22.

Gov. John Bel Edwards proposed a dire state operating budget on Jan. 22. Faced with almost $1 billion in expiring taxes, the governor proposed gutting the TOPS college scholarship program by 80 percent, cutting an additional $25.6 million in direct state aid to higher education, and slashing nearly half a billion dollars from the state’s already-strapped Department of Health & Hospitals. “This is not the budget I want to present and certainly not the budget I want implemented,” Edwards told lawmakers. “This is what falling off the cliff looks like.”

There are several reasons why and how Louisiana got into its current mess. First, a temporary 1-cent sales tax imposed two years ago will expire June 30. Second, the Stelly Plan — which reduced state sales taxes and raised income taxes — was dismantled by former Govs. Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat, and Bobby Jindal, a Republican in 2007 and 2008, respectively. Third, Jindal and state lawmakers propped up the state’s shaky finances year after year by using one-time funds rather than recurring revenues. Jindal and lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans alike — also failed to seek long-term fiscal reform.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Lawmakers upset over proposal to slash TOPS scholarship program by 80 percent

Posted By and on Tue, Jan 23, 2018 at 3:50 PM

Jay Dardenne, Gov. John Bel Edwards' commissioner of administration (left) and State Budget Director Barry Dusse answer questions about Edwards' budget proposal yesterday. - PHOTO BY ASHLEY WOLF
  • PHOTO BY ASHLEY WOLF
  • Jay Dardenne, Gov. John Bel Edwards' commissioner of administration (left) and State Budget Director Barry Dusse answer questions about Edwards' budget proposal yesterday.

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ proposal to slash the TOPS college scholarship program by 80 percent to staunch an upcoming budget shortfall has raised concerns among both Republican and Democratic legislators and the nearly 49,000 students who rely on it.

The governor proposed cutting the popular program in a doomsday budget released on Monday. Edwards made clear that he was not in favor of the cut. But he said that it might be necessary if he and Republican lawmakers could not agree on how to close a $1 billion shortfall in state revenues expected in July.

Edwards’ proposal eliminates the state general fund dedication to the Taylor Opportunity Program, aka TOPS. The program will still be funded through the statutory dedication of a dedicated tobacco settlement fund, “a very meager, token amount,” Jay Dardenne, the governor’s commissioner of administration, said.

The proposal recommends a further cut in tuition aid with a 50 percent decrease in funding for Go Grants, a need-based grant for low to moderate-income college students.
Overall, the proposed reductions would total $272 million.

There is “not a cut on the list that I support making,” Edwards said.

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Monday, January 22, 2018

Governor's budget proposal grim for TOPS and state health services; state GOP is skeptical

Posted By and on Mon, Jan 22, 2018 at 12:34 PM

Gov. John Bel Edwards, left, and Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne presented the governor’s budget proposal for fiscal 2019 to a joint legislative committee this morning. - PHOTO BY SARAH GAMARD/MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE
  • PHOTO BY SARAH GAMARD/MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE
  • Gov. John Bel Edwards, left, and Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne presented the governor’s budget proposal for fiscal 2019 to a joint legislative committee this morning.

Baton Rouge’s rainy weather mirrored the gloom inside the Capitol Monday, as Gov. John Bel Edwards presented a 2019 doomsday budget with deep cuts in the popular TOPS college scholarship program and in state health services, saying he hopes they never go into effect.

Under his proposal, TOPS would be gutted, losing all $233 million in state general funds, while the budget for higher education institutions would be slashed an additional $25.6 million. The Department of Health and Hospitals, which oversees the state’s Medicaid program and hospitals, would suffer a $488 million cut in state funding and ultimately lose $2.3 billion once federal matching funds are factored in.

“There’s not a cut in that budget proposal that I’m advocating for,” the governor said when presenting his proposal to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget. “Not a single one.”

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Friday, January 12, 2018

Sick and tired of state lawmakers doing nothing about fiscal reform? Remember that next time you vote

Posted By on Fri, Jan 12, 2018 at 2:42 PM

thinkstockphotos-807406174.jpg

When it comes to fiscal reform, voters should be getting sick and tired of seeing lawmakers do nothing — and I do mean nothing — about a serious problem that hasn’t fundamentally changed in a decade.

In 2002, at the urging of Republican Gov. Mike Foster, voters approved the Stelly Plan, which lowered sales taxes and increased state income taxes. Note that voters approved that plan. And it worked. Louisiana got a tax base that grew as incomes rose.

In 2007 and 2008, Govs. Kathleen Blanco and Bobby Jindal signed legislation effectively gutting the Stelly Plan. Since then, Louisiana has fallen farther and farther behind other southern states in economic development and prosperity, educational funding and attainment, and just about every other “good” list you can imagine.

Meanwhile, lawmakers talk about fiscal reform but do nothing about it.

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Sunday, December 31, 2017

29 of the year's Gambit cover stories you may have missed

Posted By on Sun, Dec 31, 2017 at 9:00 AM

It's been a rough year for some alt-weeklies (as well as daily papers and news websites), but what continues to work for us — and seems to work for you — is locally written and produced stories about our city, potholes and all.

We get it. You're busy. But we've been busy too. Here are 29 of the cover stories from 2017 in the five areas in which we specialize: news, politics, city life, food and the arts. Maybe you missed a couple.

NEWS
• The year in drugs: What lies ahead in drug policy for the U.S., and for Louisiana
• New Orleans protests: Inauguration Day marches, the Women's March and more
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• Home sick — the rental registry: New Orleans housing stock in need of repair
• A-breasted development: How New Orleans tattoo artists help breast cancer survivors
• A blueprint for murder reduction: Criminologist Jeff Asher on the crime rate
• Beyond the wall: Local immigrants face an uncertain future under the Trump administration
• Young lives behind bars: Louisiana considers abolishing life without parole for some juvenile offenders
• The facts of life: The sorry state of sex education in Louisiana
• The Landrieu legacy on crime: What the mayor got right — and wrong
• Project Censored: The 10 most under-covered stories of the year
• Breaking the (hurricane) scale: After a destructive hurricane season, is the 1-to-5 Saffir-Simpson scale outdated?
• Shift change: How New Orleans hospitality workers are organizing their industry

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