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Insurance Dept. employees take early retirement option

Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon gave some of his employees the chance to participate in an early retirement incentive program to help with budget balancing.

And Donelon said Wednesday six employees took the offer under which they will receive a lump sum payment of 50 percent of the agency’s savings from their leaving.

“It will save us $561,000 next (fiscal) year – minus the cost of health care,” said Donelon.

Donelon joins Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain in taking the layoff avoidance measure which is provided for in state Civil Service rules.

When the new fiscal year begins July 1, Donelon said the Insurance Department will have 225 employees – down from 275 not so long ago.

Donelon’s department if totally self-funded but he’s still has to take cuts as the Jindal administration takes away more and more of those dollars to fill budget holes elsewhere.

“They will get more than $17 million from us this year and they tell me they need another $5 million next year,” said Donelon.

“We charge the people we regulate for the services we render them,” Donelon said, mentioning licensing and monitoring insurance companies solvency.

The administration taking funds away for use otherwise “really is a tax increase” on those regulated by the Insurance Department, he said.

Donelon said the department will have a $27 million budget in the new fiscal year which is getting close to the $22 million that’s being taken away for general budget needs.

 

 

Film tax credit program revamp proposed

New Orleans state Sen. J.P. Morrell has filed nearly a dozen bills aimed at revamping the state’s film tax credit program.

The legislation would: modify the cost of the credits, focus the credits to benefit Louisiana, institute better regulation and seek to control fraudulent behavior, according to a news released issued Wednesday by the Senate communications office.

The film tax credit program has made Louisiana attractive to the motion picture industry bringing a string of productions to the state since the program began in 2002.

The credits were created to boost three entertainment industries: movie and TV productions, sound recordings and musical and theatrical productions.

Despite its successes, Morrell said budget issues and concerns about fraud in the program require changes to be made.

According to a state Department of Economic Development report, the program cost $4.48 for every $1 of state revenue it creates.

“The film and movie production industry made possible by these credits has brought a new sense of innovation to Louisiana,” said Morrell, a Democrat. “The problems that have arisen are correctable and I will do everything in my power to ensure the future viability of this valuable program.”

Among the 11 billd are those that would:

  • Limit the amount of tax credits that can be awarded on state-certified productions approved during a fiscal year to $300 million. It would roll over any credits not awarded to future fiscal years.
  •  Authorize contracts for tax credits for five years, renewable for five more years, for scripted television-video series if they agree to construct or lease production facilities in Louisiana. An agreement would also have to be struck with Economic Development on guaranteed expenditures and jobs for Louisiana residents.
  • Require sworn affidavits of those submitting information for the creation of production audit reports for tax credits; regulate and limit production expenditures among related parties.
  •  Require the Louisiana Workforce Commission to provide information to Economic Development and the state Revenue Department to verify payroll and employment of Louisiana residents for purpose of the tax credit.
  •  Authorize the recapture of disallowed tax credits personally from owners of entities created or organized for the primary purpose of receiving and-or sellling tax credits.
  •  Requires sellers of tax credits to qualify for and be included in a Public Registry of Motion Picture Investor Tax Credit Brokers which includes a criminal history background examination. Those who don’t register would be subject to a fine of up to $10,000 or prison up to five years, or both.

 

U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany backs U.S. David Vitter for governor

Lafayette Congressman Charles Boustany came out early and endorsed Wednesday fellow Capital Hill Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s gubernatorial bid.

Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel also endorsed Vitter, of Metairie.

The election is in October.

Three other major candidates have announced their intentions: Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, of Breaux Bridge; and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, of Baton Rouge; both Republicans, and State Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite.

Reuters: Gov. Bobby Jindal accepted Obamacare dollars for Louisiana

Reuters news agency reported Wednesday that Gov. Bobby Jindal accepted $60 million in federal funds provided under Obamacare while working to scrap the law.

But the Jindal administration said the dollars coming to the state had nothing to do with the health insurance exchanges or expansion of Medicaid – the guts of the federal Affordable Care Act.

Instead, the funding is largely related to federal grants Louisiana had previously been receiving for programs that were swept into Obamacare, said state Department of Health and Hospitals chief of staff Frank Opelka Jr.

“We exam these grants ‘Is it good for the state? Is it not good for the state?'” said Opelka. “It just so happens these were the grants in ACA that fit that model.”

The Reuters’ story said Jindal and three other Republican governors eying presidential bids – Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, New Jersey’s Chris Christie and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry – secured at least $352 million under Obamacare for their states while opposing the law.

Of Louisiana’s funds, some $50 million is related to a nurse family partnership multi-year grant program that has been in place since 1999, Opelka said. Nurses go to the homes of pregnant women and those with young children, he said.

Other funding cited in the Reuter’s report included $1.25 million for a medical school student loan repayment program which rewards physicians who opt to practice in rural settings and five or six public health grants for such things as HIV-AIDS treatment, tobacco cessation and epidemeology, Opelka said.

Opelka said the state initially accepted about a $1 million grant to establish a state-based health insurance exchange allowed under Obamacare. “It’s something we looked a doing but quicky realized it was not cost-effective and gave the money back,” he said. The money was returned in March 2011.

White, Roemer tout Common Core

Addressing a friendly audience, state Superintendent of Education John White and Chas Roemer, president of Louisiana’s top school board,  told business leaders that Common Core remains a goal worth fighting for.

The pair made their comments to the Committee of 100, which includes business leaders from around the state who have long backed the new academic standards.

White told the group that, before Common Core entered public school classrooms, a second grader in Louisiana was taught to count to 1,000.

Meanwhile, a second grader in Massachusetts , which regularly ranks near the top nationally in student achievement, was taught to count to 1,000 by 5’s, 10’s, 100’s and other variables.

“That kid in Massachusetts was weightlifting for their brains,” he said. “Our kids were just counting.”

Roemer, who heads the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, disputed arguments that Common Core represents any sort of watering down of academic guidelines.

“These standards, while more difficult, are higher standards,” he said.

The pair addressed the group one day after a district judge tossed out one of the anti-Common Core lawsuits.

That ruling will be appealed, and action on at least two others is pending.

The issue has sparked heated disputes for the past 19 months, often pitting Roemer and White against Gov. Bobby Jindal, a former Common Core backer who now opposes the overhaul.

Jindal and other critics contend the changes represent federal overreach in local school issues.

“I I do regret the politics,” Roemer said. “I do not regret the fight. I am fighting for my kids.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rick Santorum endorses Jeff Landry for A.G.

Louisiana attorney general candidate Jeff Landry got support Tuesday from one-time presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

Landry, a New Iberia lawyer and former congressman, is challenging incumbent Buddy Caldwell in fall elections.

Landry and Caldwell are both Republicans.

Santorum, a former U.S. senator won the  2012 Louisiana Republican presidential primary. He is chairman of Patriot Voices.

“I have known Jeff Landry for a number of years and have always been impressed by his principled, conservative leadership,” Santorum said in a news release. “We need a proven conservative like Jeff Landry as Louisiana’s next attorney general to fight the regulatory overreach of President Obama and his Administration.”

 

Ex- coastal restoration chief Zeringue running for La. House

Coastal protection and restoration advocate Jerome “Zee” Zeringue announced Tuesday he’ll run for the Houma area Louisiana House seat being vacated by Rep. Gordon Dove.

Dove, a Republican from Houma, cannot run for re-election to the District 52 seat because of term limits.

House District 52 encompasses parts of Terrebonne and Lafourche Parish.

Zeringue, a Republican, recently served as executive director of Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA. He spent ten years as executive director of the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation.

Zeringue  graduated from Thibodaux High School and worked his way through college. Most of that time was spent working within the chamber of the House of Representatives, in the House Clerk’s Office, while earning both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from LSU.

If elected, Zeringue said he will immediately focus on streamlining government, reforming education to give parents and students greater choice and access; work to ensure businesses can grow and hire qualified employees; and continue work to insure Louisiana’s coast is restored and homes are protected from storms.

Zeringue represented the state as an  on-scene coordinator during the height of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and he assisted in the development and approval of the $50 billion coastal Master Plan aimed at restoring and protecting Louisiana’s coast. In addition, Zeringue was involved in the development of the state’s Flood Protection Emergency Response Plan.

Zeringue  lives in Houma with his wife of 20 years, Julie Daigle Zeringue, a teacher at Mulberry Elementary school. They have one son – Zachary, 16.

 

 

David Vitter, Garret Graves say they wouldn’t impeach Obama

By Andrea Gallo, Advocate City Hall Bureau

U.S. Sen. David Vitter and U.S. Rep. Garret Graves said Monday morning that they would not move to impeach President Barack Obama because it would leave Vice President Joe Biden running the country.

Their statements were in response to constituents who asked why Vitter had not taken action to remove Obama from office. Vitter and Graves both said the path forward shows impeachment would require a lot of time and trouble for slim to no payoffs.

“What does it look like to have Joe Biden as president instead of Barack Obama?” Vitter said. “I’ll tell you what it looks like, it looks exactly the same. So what do we do the next time, impeach Joe Biden? Okay let’s impeach Joe Biden. What do you think the next presidential election looks like? Do you think that hurts Hillary [Clinton]? Because I don’t. I think that elects Hillary. I think that elects Hillary for 8 years.”

Graves said the better solution is to adjust the balance of power so Obama — or any president — cannot “run over” Congress. He said Obama has “gone outside of the bounds” of many laws throughout his presidency.

“We would have Joe Biden as the president of the United States, which I will tell you probably concerns me more than anything else,” Graves said.

Darrell Ourso wins House District 66 runoff

Former Baton Rouge Metro Councilman Darrell Ourso won by 72 votes to represent southeast East Baton Rouge parish neighborhoods in the Louisiana Legislature.

With all 29 precincts reporting former Baton Rouge Metro Councilman Darrell Ourso has 1,958 votes to Metro Councilman Buddy Amoroso’s 1,886 ballots.

Secretary of State Tom Schedler expected a low turnout.

Amoroso and Ourso, both Republicans, are vying to fill out the remaining eight months left in the term of Hunter Greene, who stepped down as state representative after being elected the family court bench. The winner will have run again at the end of the year for a full four-year term.

House District 66 stretches from Interstate 12 to Bayou Manchac, including Woodland Ridge, Old Jefferson, Santa Maria, Tiger Bend, the Country Club of Louisiana and many of the neighborhoods that would make up the city of St. George, if the residents there voted to incorporate.

The 29 precincts of House District 66 have 30,779 people eligible to vote in Saturday’s election. A total of 24,471 registered voters are white — almost 80 percent — and 49 percent, 14,982, are registered as Republicans, one of the state’s highest concentrations.

Amoroso, 57, is a property manager who lives the Lake Sherwood Acres neighborhood and serves on the Baton Rouge Metro Council. He’s one of the founders of the anti-tax advocacy group Tax Busters and a former member of the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport Commission.

Ourso, 50, is a financial advisor who lives in the Evergreen Acres neighborhood and served on the Baton Rouge Metro Council from 1999 to 2008. He is an executive board member of the Istrouma Area Council that oversees Boy Scout troops in the area. He also is on the board of commissioners for the St. George Fire Protection District.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCNB. For more coverage of government and politics, follow our Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com.politicsblog/

John Bel Edwards nominated as La Democratic Party’s sole candidate

State Rep. John Bel Edwards, of Amite, as the Louisiana Democratic Party votes Saturday to endorse him as their candidate for governor.

State Rep. John Bel Edwards, of Amite, as the Louisiana Democratic Party votes Saturday to endorse him as their candidate for governor.

The Democratic State Central Committee nominated Saturday State Rep John Bel Edwards as the party’s sole candidate for governor.

The vote was without dissent and followed by applause.

“Louisiana has lost its way,” said Edwards, of Amite, adding that the Jindal administration failed to strategically invest in the state.

Edwards told the Democrats that he supports a minimum wage, equal pay for women and increased financial support for higher education. But the bulk of the campaign will focus on Gov. Bobby Jindal,  who is term-limited and flirting with run for president.

“Bobby Jindal is more unpopular in Louisiana than President Barack Obama,” Edwards said.

He pointed out that his three Republican opponents – Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle,  of Breaux Bridge; Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne,  of Baton Rouge; and U.S. Sen. David Vitter,  of Metairie – have all supported, or at least not opposed, Jindal’s policies. Those policies, he said, cut $700 million from the state’s colleges and universities, which required higher education to increase tuition and fees on students, as well as led to the closing of the emergency room that served mid-city Baton Rouge.

“As the only veteran in the race, I appeal to a diverse base of voters in our state because I am authentic,” Edwards said.  The 48-year-old lawyer graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1988. He is the son of longtime Tangipahoa Parish sheriff Frank M. Edwards Jr. and brother of the current sheriff, Daniel H. Edwards. He was elected to the state House of Representatives in 2008 and leads the chamber’s Democratic Party caucus.

Edwards walked through a standing ovation shaking hands and hugging delegates, including state Rep. Patricia Smith, the Baton Rouge Democrat whose district includes the State Capitol and who officially nominated him.

“You don’t outsource your fiscal policy to Grover Norquist,” Edwards said referring to Jindal passing the various contingencies to raise revenues and fill a $1.6 billion deficit past the prominent anti-tax crusader from Washington, D.C.

If he wins, an Edwards administration would look hard at the tax credits, deductions and exemptions offered businesses that strip of billions of dollars of revenues from state coffers.

“We have to grow the economy,” Edwards said in an interview after his speech. Louisiana has offered so many incentives that when new jobs are created, the state has given away the new revenues.

“You can’t have so many incentive exemptions, to where you can’t increase net new revenues to the point to pay your obligations,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana AFL-CIO, the state’s largest union, endorsed Edwards earlier this month.

Though more than a half million voters are registered Democrats than have affiliated with the Republican Party, all the state officials elected statewide, both U.S. Senators, five of the six congressmen, and the majorities of both chambers of the Louisiana Legislature belong to the GOP. The gubernatorial election is scheduled for Oct. 24.

The action Saturday by party leaders will help keep other major candidates from jumping into the governor’s race. Edwards said the vote would allow the party, whose registered voters outnumber Republicans, to coalesce behind one candidate.

And the seven-month race will help voters better understand that he is in the mainstream of Louisiana thoughts and practices, Edwards said.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has been rumored to be interested in running statewide.

“He told me personally, on more than one occasion, that he wasn’t going  to run,” Edwards said.

Since the defeat of his sister, Mary Landrieu,  in the U.S. Senate campaign last fall, Mayor Landrieu,  Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, of Bossier Parish; and U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, whose congressional district stretches up the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Baton Rouge; are considered the state’s leading Democrats still in office.