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The Rundown: April 28, 2015

The Advocate The Rundown Louisiana Politics Louisiana Legislature Bobby Jindal

Welcome to The Rundown, your go-to source for news about Louisiana politics, the Louisiana Legislature and Gov. Bobby Jindal, brought to you by The AdvocateGet The Rundown in your inbox by filling out the form here.

Countdown…
Days until session ends: 44
Days until the 2015 primary election day: 179
Days until the runoff (as needed): 208

Where in the world is Gov. Bobby Jindal? Jindal didn’t have any appearances reported outside Louisiana today.

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Toxic chemical bill backed by U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., picks up more Democratic support

Washington — A deal on a toxic-chemical  regulation bill promoted by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., brings more Democratic senators on board with the measure, Vitter’s Democratic co-sponsor of the legislation said Monday, on the eve of committee action on the proposal.

The update of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act is scheduled to come up Tuesday before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Vitter and his fellow Republicans hold the majority on the committee, but the support of Democratic members Cory Booker, of New Jersey, Jeff Merkley, of Oregon, and Sheldon Whitehouse, of Rhode Island, will strengthen the bill’s chances on the Senate floor.

Backers of the bipartisan update effort lead by Vitter and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., say the proposal represents a significant and long-overdue overhaul of the 1976 law.

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Tobacco tax increase approved

Smokers would pay 32 cents more per pack under a bill passed by the House Ways and Means Committee Monday morning.

The measure, HB 119, after being approved 11-5, now goes to the House floor for consideration. The state Legislature is trying to raise revenue to close a projected $1.6 billion budget shortfall for the fiscal year that begins on July 1.

State Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, who has been smoking for more than 50 years, sought a $1.18 per pack increase to put Louisiana’s rate at the national average. But state Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, the committee chairman, offered the lower 32-cent tax increase.

State Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, sponsored legislation to raise the tax on cigarettes.

State Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, sponsored legislation to raise the tax on cigarettes.

Ritchie said he didn’t like the lower amount but added that he didn’t want to oppose an amendment offered by the committee chairman. Once Ritchie signaled his acceptance, the amendment to approve the 32-cent tax increase passed without dissent.

Louisiana currently has the third lowest cigarette tax rate of 36 cents per pack. The 32-cent increase would give Louisiana the same tax rate as neighboring Mississippi.

A parade of anti-tobacco advocates testified in favor of the $1.18 per pack increase.

“Raising the tobacco tax reduces tobacco consumption,” said B. Jay Brooks Jr., a cancer doctor at Ochsner Health Center in Baton Rouge.

“Seventy percent of people who smoke in the US try to quit,” said Stephen Kantrow, a cancer doctor at the LSU Health Sciences Center. “About 10 percent are successful. It’s very difficult to end the addiction. 80 percent start smoking before 18. Cigarette smoking is a childhood addition that they spend the rest of their lives trying to end.”

Fred Hoyt, who represents convenience stores, said the $1.18 per pack increase would cost jobs. He said that 30 percent of a convenience stores’ income generally comes from tobacco sales.

The Rundown: April 27, 2015

Welcome to The Rundown, your go-to source for Louisiana political news, brought to you by The Advocate. Get The Rundown in your inbox by filling out the form here.

Countdown…
Days until session ends: 45
Days until the 2015 primary election day: 180
Days until the runoff (as needed): 209

Where in the world is Gov. Bobby Jindal? Gov. Jindal traveled to Grand Rapids, Michigan on Sunday to attend meetings for Believe Again. Today, he was scheduled to travel to Indianapolis to attend additional meetings before returning to Baton Rouge.

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Bobby Jindal says he ‘absolutely’ would attend same-sex wedding

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal frequently talks up his support for “traditional marriage” but during an event in Iowa this weekend, Jindal said his religious beliefs wouldn’t keep him from attending a gay wedding. 

“Sure, if it’s somebody I loved and cared for, absolutely,” Jindal reportedly said when asked if he would attend a same-sex marriage ceremony.

“Now, the reality is I don’t like attending a lot of weddings,” he added, according to CNN’s account of the exchange.

Jindal, seen as a possible contender for the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination, has come out as a vocal supporter of legislation that has been proposed this session to protect anti-same-sex marriage beliefs. He has repeatedly said he hopes the US Supreme Court doesn’t rule in favor of same-sex marriage and slammed those who previously opposed same-sex marriage but have since “evolved” in favor of. 

The question of whether he would attend a wedding ceremony for two men or a lesbian couple didn’t entirely come up out of the blue in Iowa. Reporters across the country have been asking possible presidential candidates the hypothetical question to gauge their stance on the hot-button issue. 

Here, CNN runs through some of the other answers from the field, including a potential candidate who says he definitely wouldn’t go, and a Republican who says he already has attended a gay wedding reception. 

Jay Dardenne gubernatorial campaign will report nearly $2M cash on hand

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne’s campaign for governor is expected to report having raised more than half a million dollars in the first quarter of 2015.

“People from all across Louisiana are tired of the Washington political games and personal politics that have driven leadership in Louisiana for too long.  Together we can change the way government works and build a Louisiana we can all be proud of,” Dardenne said in a statement.

According to Team Dardenne, the Republican has about $1.85 cahs on hand, after raising more than $2.8 million in the race so far.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter said earlier this week that his campaign raised $1.1 million in the first quarter and has about $4.2 million cash on hand, having raised a total of $5.2 million since launching his bid. The other major candidates for governor — Republican Scott Angelle and Democrat John Bel Edwards — have not yet filed or announced their fundraising figures.

Campaign finance records for the first quarter of the year are due Monday. The reports cover Jan. 1 through April 17. The next reporting deadline will be July 27.

Committee approves bill by U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., to help small-business development

Washington — A bill by U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., to help small-business development was approved Thursday by the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, which Vitter chairs.

The measure aims to enhance the Small Business Development Centers program of the federal Small Business Administration. It would prohibit the duplication of the work of SBDCs by another federal agency and enable SBDCs to help small businesses outside of their own states in cases of natural disasters or other emergencies.

The bill now is set up for consideration by the full Senate

Investors pull out of LSU bond sale

The State Treasurer Friday morning reported that national investors pulled out of a large portion of a $114 million bond deal for LSU amid concerns over budget instability and state support for Louisiana colleges and universities.

“We’re trying to sort out the facts. This is obviously not a welcome development,” State Treasurer John Kennedy said Friday in a press release. “It could have ramifications for other universities in Louisiana and for the state’s overall bond rating, and it could impact the interest rate on future state bond issues, including an upcoming $300 million state general obligation bond issue.”

LSU on Tuesday issued $114 million in revenue and refunding bonds to generate money and to save taxpayer dollars. Proceeds from the bond sale would have funded a Family Housing Complex, residence halls and a Student Health Center and also would have saved interest on existing debt. The bonds were priced on Tuesday.

Earlier this week, Moody’s Investors Services lowered LSU’s credit outlook from positive to stable because of limited prospects for sustained revenue growth. Moody’s action puts LSU one step away from a negative outlook, which could result in a downgrade for the university’s credit rating.

The Rundown: April 24, 2015

Welcome to The Rundown, your go-to source for Louisiana political news, brought to you by The Advocate. Get The Rundown in your inbox by filling out the form here.

Countdown…
Days until session ends: 48
Days until the 2015 primary election day: 183
Days until the runoff (as needed): 212

Where in the world is Gov. Bobby Jindal? The governor is heading to New Hampshire this weekend. Details: http://bit.ly/1K0snDW

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Louisiana is overpaid in tobacco settlement

In addition to the state’s other fiscal problems, Louisiana now may have to repay, in short order, millions of dollars received in error from multi-billion dollar settlement with cigarette manufacturers.

In letter delivered late Thursday, Attorney General Buddy Caldwell informed top state officials that because of an accounting error, Louisiana was overpaid and may be on the hook for about $17 million – “although there has not yet been a final calculation.”

The underpaid states cannot wait until next year, meaning Louisiana will be expected to reimbursed the overpaid amount, the letter said.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, the international accounting firm headquartered in London, “made significant errors in determining the 2015 annual” payments from the Master Settlement Agreement into which tobacco companies pay each year as part of a deal to end lawsuits filed by the states in the 1990s over health problems the caused by cigarette smoking. PricewaterhouseCoopers, or PwC, is tasked with calculating annual payments to the states.

“Specifically, PwC appears to have underpaid approximately half the states and overpaid the remaining half. Louisiana is among those states receiving an overpayment,” Caldwell stated in the letter written by Assistant Attorney General Gol Sheikhivigeh Hannaman.

The letter was officially sent to Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols and State Treasurer John N. Kennedy, and copied to eight other top state officials.

Neither Nichols nor Kennedy had seen letter, which was released after office hours.

Louisiana should have received $138.3 million as its share of the tobacco settlement on April 15 and April 17. The state actually got $155.6 million.

Because the state sold 60 percent of the settlement for a cash payment in 2001, about $93.4 million was sent directly to repay that bond. The remaining portion of the 2015 payment, about $62.2 million, was electronically transferred to Treasurer Kennedy. Of that amount, about $46.7 million is deposited with the Millennium Trust to help pay for TOPS, the popular scholarship that covers tuition in state colleges and universities for qualified students. The rest went into the Louisiana Fund.

The news comes as legislators are being pushed by the Jindal administration to sell the remainder of the tobacco settlement fund for about $750 million.