Gas Tax Hike Vote Delayed

05/24/2017

Gas tax debate on hold as bill aimed to raise $510M struggles to drum up support

BY WILL SENTELL | wsentell@theadvocate.com

In a new sign the bill faces huge obstacles, a $510 million gas tax hike plan scheduled for Louisiana House debate Wednesday was expected to be delayed until at least May 31.

The measure, House Bill 632, was narrowly approved last week by the House Ways and Means Committee and is on the House calendar for debate Wednesday. But backers remain well under the two-thirds majority needed for approval – at least 70 votes in the 105-member Louisiana House.

The session ends on June 8, which means another delay makes final approval of a bill that already faced steep odds even more remote.

Bill in LA Legislature to Change Jackson Hospital Board

05/24/2017

A bill that would change the makeup of the Jackson Parish Hospital Board of Directors is working its way through the Louisiana Legislature this session.

Senate Bill 219, authored by Senator Jim Fannin (District 35), has passed the Louisiana Senate unanimously, and was favorably reported out of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Health and Welfare. It is currently pending final House passage.

The bill would reduce the number of board members from seven to five, and would require certain minimum qualifications to be a board member. The members would serve six year terms.

From the bill:

…who shall be qualified voters and residents of the parish and shall possess the following qualifications: one commission member who shall possess financial expertise as the officer or owner of a bank or group of banks in the parish, one commission member who shall possess legal expertise as a licensed attorney in good standing in the parish who shall not be employed by the district attorney’s office, one commission member who shall possess medical expertise and is a licensed practitioner at the hospital service district hospital in the parish, one commission member who shall possess business or accounting expertise and is a licensed certified public accountant or who holds a master’s degree in business administration and practices in the parish, and one commission member who shall have managerial expertise and is employed by a manufacturer located in the parish of products made from pulp wood or other fibrous substances with more than two hundred employees.

The appointments would be made by the Jackson Parish Police Jury (JPPJ), and would take office August 1, 2017.

The present law pertaining to the makeup of the board specifies no minimum qualifications to serve.

Arrests Made in Lincoln Parish Vehicle Burglaries

05/23/2017

Tuesday May 23, 2017 Lincoln Parish Sheriff’s Department Press Release – Vehicle Burglaries Update

Two adults, along with three juveniles have been arrested and charged with numerous counts of vehicle burglaries. The adults involved are Jamario Smith and Emerion Holland (images attached). The total number of vehicle burglaries that are being worked by LPSO investigators total greater than thirty (30). Victims sustained losses of items ranging from cash to firearms, primarily from vehicles that the suspects discovered to be unlocked, at the time they committed their offenses.

The sweep of arrest began Monday morning (5/22/2017) and included all divisions of the sheriff’s department. LPSO investigators believe a strong case exists with respect to physical evidence. Many stolen items are still at large, to include firearms. Ruston / Lincoln Crimestoppers (318.255.1111) will pay for information leading to the arrest or arrests of those persons found to be in possession stolen property.

The suspects were believed to be driving a dark colored mid-size sedan during the time these offenses were committed. The suspects preyed upon parked cars in residential areas of the parish that they (suspects) discovered to be unlocked. The names of the juvenile offenders have been intentionally omitted from this report. Each juvenile was booked with sixteen (16) counts of burglary. Attached are images of Jamario Smith, booked with sixteen (16) counts of burglary and Emerion Holland (booked with one count of burglary).

Said Sheriff Stone, “This investigation is still ongoing and there is still much work to be done. Investigators are meticulously working thru physical and scientific evidence, in an effort to solve each crime committed. I would like to specifically thank our criminal investigators, narcotics investigators, juvenile division, patrol division as well as our support staff for the long hours put into apprehending these suspects.”

Another Shooting in Ruston Today

05/17/2017

Meanwhile, the Lincoln Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Ruston Police Department continue their intensive speed trap enforcement for all the dangerous lawbreakers traveling along Interstate 20. After all, revenue generation is a much higher priority than crime fighting.

RUSTON, La. (Press Release) – On Wednesday, at approximately 1:50 PM, the Ruston Police Department received an E911 call regarding a shooting in the 1500 block of Martin Luther King Avenue in Ruston.

Upon arrival in the area, officers from the Uniform Patrol Division located a male victim that was suffering from a gunshot wound. The Ruston Fire Department responded to the scene to render aid to the victim, who was later transferred to a Shreveport-area hospital for treatment. His condition is unknown at this time. Detectives began their follow-up investigation by conducting interviews and collecting evidence. The suspect is described as a light-skinned black male wearing a red shirt. He was armed with a handgun. This incident remains under active investigation by the Criminal Investigative Division of the Ruston Police Department.

If anyone has information regarding this or any other crime, they are requested to contact the Ruston Police Department’s Criminal Investigative Division at 318-255-4141 or Crimestoppers of Lincoln Parish. Crimestopper information can be given in several ways; either by calling 318-255-1111, text a tip to “TIP515 plus your message” to CRIMES (274637), or submit a tip online at http://www.rustonlincolncrimestoppers.com. But please keep in mind that crimes in progress should always be reported immediately to the appropriate law enforcement agency or by calling 911.

Bridges to Nowhere – What your Gas Taxes Buy

05/17/2017

Garret Graves Trolls DOTD From The Audubon Bridge

By Scott McKay

From the Congressman’s Facebook came a pretty brutal rebuke to the state’s Department of Transportation and Development, or DOTD…

View from the JJA Bridge connecting Pointe Coupee & West Feliciana Parishes (taken earlier this week). One or two cars crossed the entire time we were out there – we could have had a picnic or played some short-court tennis using the center line as an imaginary net.

Point is this bridge just doesn’t have significant volume, and it’s an example of the kind of poor infrastructure investments made when politics supplant data-driven decision making. If we’re going to make progress on our traffic issues in the Capital Region – which is an absolute must – we have to establish a framework that takes a comprehensive view of regional choke-points, identifies projects that will make the biggest impact at the best costs and that integrates technology is the design of better performing traffic systems.

The John J. Audubon Bridge was completed in 2011, under the state’s TIMED program which was supposed to use design-build bidding procedures to get transportation projects completed more quickly. It cost the state $409 million.

Graves’ criticism is correct, on a couple of counts – one of which is actually a validation of the bridge of sorts and a bit of a double indictment of DOTD.

It runs essentially from nowhere to nowhere – Highway 10, which peels off of Airline Highway (U.S. 61) to the east and south of St. Francisville, crosses the river into farmland to the north and east of Ventress and New Roads. The combined population of the three towns is about 7,600 people, and the combined population of West Feliciana and Pointe Coupee Parishes, which the bridge connects, is about 38,000.

So not only is the bridge out in the middle of nowhere, it’s in the middle of nowhere within the middle of nowhere.

So it’s a loser – doubly so – in comparison to what could have happened had the bridge been built somewhere there was more demand. South of downtown Baton Rouge, at this point one bridge won’t even do – the parish presidents in West Baton Rouge and Iberville have been feuding for a couple of years over the proper site for a bridge when they should probably both have one.

But the other point is the real indictment of DOTD. The JJA wasn’t built to alleviate traffic; it was built for economic development purposes.

Has that worked? From an Advocate article back in 2015…

Cantrell, Pointe Coupee’s economic development director, said the parish already has experienced a 5.6 percent hike in sales tax revenue since the bridge’s opening, a number that jumps to 24 percent in New Roads.

Cantrell attributes much of that to the increase in traffic flow the Audubon Bridge has pulled into the parish’s new Super Wal-Mart and other new or expanded businesses.

Cantrell said the parish has also better positioned itself as a shovel-ready area for large industrial developments through the creation of six certified industrial sites on more than 4,000 acres of undeveloped land.

“With that Super Wal-Mart coming in, we’re noticing a lot of traffic come across the bridge into the New Roads area. When I see new faces, I ask where they’re from and about half a dozen tell me they live in West Feliciana,” he said.

As for the daily traffic being under original projections, Cantrell attributes that to the bridge opening nearly 10 years before it was originally supposed to open, in 2020.

“We never had a grand opening where we got all the press about it,” Cantrell said. “I think that hurt to some extent. Over time, people had to find it.”

West Feliciana Parish hasn’t reaped the same economic rewards as Pointe Coupee so far, but the bridge and a new business growth plan could soon change that.

“There are two perspectives that are really important to identify when talking about this,” said Bettsie Norton, West Feliciana Parish’s economic development director. “Has there been a lot of traffic on the bridge? No, there has not. Numbers don’t lie. But you have to understand the long-term perspective for the economic development strategy for our parish.”

There is no particular difference between two years ago and now. Nobody is building any major developments in St. Francisville or New Roads as a result of the bridge. So as an economic development incentive this isn’t an unquestioned winner by any means.

That said, it’s a fair point that the JJA isn’t built to facilitate economic development now; there isn’t enough population in Pointe Coupee or West Feliciana yet to move the needle. A 5.6 percent hike in sales tax revenue in Pointe Coupee Parish is the very definition of minimal, if you compare such a number with a similar increase in, say, Ascension or Iberville Parishes – not to mention East Baton Rouge.

The bridge gets about 3,000 or so cars a day going over it. Compare that with Highway 1 in Plaquemine, which does about 15 times that traffic. Does anybody really believe the economic development effects of a bridge to nowhere would outstrip those of a potential location where you could couple economic development with traffic alleviation to boot?

West Baton Rouge and Iberville Parishes have lots of developable land, but without transportation connections to population centers you’re not going to get the kind of economic development you want in either place. Everyone knows it, which is why West Baton Rouge and Iberville are fighting over the chance to get the next bridge.

What’s worst about this is the JJA really wasn’t all that bad an idea. It isn’t a boondoggle like it’s been presented as; it’s a beautiful, terrific piece of infrastructure. And over the long haul it’s not a sure thing the projections which said by 2040 there will be 22,000 cars a day going over that bridge will end up optimistic (the bridge was supposed to be getting 4,000 a day by now, a number of which it’s short). It’s not that this bridge was so terrible, it’s that the other bridges which should have been built already weren’t. DOTD has some 4,700 employees and nobody seems to know what they do all day, and DOTD spends somewhere between 11 and 45 percent of its funding on actual roads.

This is a poorly-run agency. It’s been a poorly-run agency for a very long time, so it isn’t just John Bel Edwards’ fault. The difference is that Edwards and his DOTD secretary Shawn Wilson are running around the state demanding more gas tax dollars to fund the roads and bridges Louisiana should already have.

Julie Stokes Voted to Double Your Gas Tax & Also Wants to be State Treasurer

05/16/2017

By a one vote margin, the 17 cent gas tax hike was voted out of the Louisiana House Ways & Means Committee this afternoon. Had it been defeated in committee, likely it would have been dead for the session.

Four Republican State Representatives Just Voted To Double Your Gas Tax Today

One of those four GOP votes was Julie Stokes, from Kenner.

She also wants to take John Kennedy’s place as State Treasurer. Here’s her Facebook page.

Julie Stokes for State Treasurer

Another Bel Edwards Tax Bill in Trouble

05/15/2017

Melinda Deslatte‏ @MelindaDeslatte (AP reporter – Baton Rouge)
10:14 AM – 15 May 2017

The bill to enact state sales tax on services again pulled from Ways & Means debate calendar. Won’t be heard today. Will it ever be?

More Taxpayer Funded Vacations for LA State Police

05/15/2017

Records: State Police troopers charged taxpayers for overtime, vacation homes to attend ’14 conference in Orlando

BY JIM MUSTIAN | jmustian@theadvocate.com

Newly released records show 2016 was not the first time troopers treated the annual conference as a state-subsidized vacation, raising fresh questions about the prolific travel within the agency under Col. Mike Edmonson, the longtime superintendent who retired after the Las Vegas trip was exposed.

The records show at least seven of the same troopers who spent the week in San Diego last year also attended the 2014 IACP conference in Orlando, a repeat guest list that critics said underscores the cliquish culture Edmonson cultivated during his nine-year tenure as superintendent.

Perhaps more alarmingly, two of those troopers charged taxpayers for 25 hours of overtime apiece while attending the Orlando conference, the documents show, a practice forbidden by the State Police in the wake of the Las Vegas scandal.

The records, released in response to a public-records request filed in early March, are coming to light amid an extensive audit of State Police travel being conducted by the state legislative auditor.

Among the troopers traveling to both the 2014 and 2016 conferences was Edmonson’s brother, Maj. Paul Edmonson, who oversees the agency’s Special Investigations Division. Another repeat attendee, John W. Alario, is not even a state trooper; he is executive director of the state’s Liquefied Petroleum Gas Commission.

Alario is also the son of John A. Alario Jr., president of the state Senate and perhaps the state’s most powerful lawmaker.

Most of the troopers who traveled to Orlando stayed in hotels like the Hilton that cost taxpayers more than $200 a night, accommodations that Cain said were in keeping with the conference rate. But three troopers — including Lt. Rodney Hyatt, one of the four officers under investigation for the 2016 Las Vegas side trip — spent the week in luxury vacation homes, State Police records show.

But Hyatt and Besson, who drove to Florida in a state vehicle, also charged taxpayers for 25 hours of overtime apiece during the Orlando conference. Hyatt sent an email in the middle of the conference alerting officials in Louisiana that he and Besson would be “adjusting our hours” for the preceding three days.

Hyatt declined to comment on the overtime, saying agency policy prohibited him from discussing the trip. Besson could not be reached for comment.

The Orlando records also include a receipt for a seven-night stay for nine adults and one child at “Reunion Vacation Homes,” a reservation paid for by Capt. Kelly Dupuy, the wife of Charlie Dupuy, Edmonson’s longtime chief of staff.

The total cost of the Orlando trip to the state could not be determined because the State Police records released to The Advocate did not include airfare for the troopers who flew to the conference. The incomplete records show the agency spent at least $15,000 on the conference without counting the overtime.

Bel Edwards’ Gas Tax Running on Fumes

05/14/2017

Longshot push for gas tax hike faces first crucial hearing

BY WILL SENTELL | wsentell@theadvocate.com

Backers of a state gasoline tax increase need something of a political miracle, and the first test is set for Tuesday in a Louisiana House committee that has been killing tax bills.

With just over four weeks left in the 2017 regular legislative session, supporters of the drive for new dollars for roads and bridges hope the longshot effort is about to get going.

The initial votes are scheduled for Tuesday in the House Ways and Means Committee, which has rejected a wide range of tax plans, including those offered by Gov. John Bel Edwards, to address state budget problems.

If the bills fail in committee that may end debate on the issue for the session.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Kenny Havard, R-St. Francisville, who had his own tax measure battered and killed by Ways and Means earlier this month, said he doubts any gas tax increase will emerge from the House.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, said Friday he too doubts there is enough support.

Taxed Enough Already (TEA)

05/13/2017

Poll finds Louisiana voters do not want their taxes increased

WWL.com – Friday, May 12, 2017

Raising taxes is not popular among Louisiana voters, according to a survey from Southern Media and Opinion Research.

Lawmakers have proposed increasing taxes on everything from a pack of cigarettes to a gallon of gasoline to close a looming budget hole. Pollster Bernie Pinsonat says two-thirds of voters say they do not want their legislator to raise the state’s gas tax.

“Increasing taxes on gasoline in this survey is very unpopular with only 29 percent wanting their state legislator to vote for a bill that would initially raise gasoline taxes by 17 percent,” Pinsonat said.

In this fiscal session, lawmakers had to resolve a $440 million budget shortfall for the next fiscal year, and deal with an imminent $1.3 billion fiscal cliff in 2018. Pinsonat says according to his survey, the public thinks the state has more than enough money.

“Fifty-four percent think the state government’s problems are primarily caused by too much spending, and only 26 percent believe the state government’s problems are caused by not having enough revenue,” Pinsonat said.

Pinsonat says while voters don’t want to see their own taxes go up, they also oppose an increase in business taxes. The survey finds 18 percent of respondents believe taxes on business are absorbed by profits, but 67 percent say the tax is passed on to the customers.

“They realize that when you tax a business, the taxes are going to end up being paid by them. So they’re almost as opposed to taxing business as paying more income tax. There’s really not much difference,” Pinsonat said.