The Louisiana Supreme Court heard arguments last week on whether Lafayette Utilities Systems will get the green light to fund its fiber-to-the-home plan. Lafayette resident Elizabeth Naquin sued LUS to stop the fiber initiative, and her attorneys are arguing that LUS' bond-payment plan violates the Fair Competition Act. But according to Advocate reporter Kevin Blanchard, Supreme Court Justice Jeanette Theriot Knoll appeared surprised by that interpretation of the law, as start-up communications businesses often lose money in early years before attracting enough subscribers to bring in revenue.
"Would they ever be successful then?" Knoll asked Naquin attorney Stan Baudin, who was making the argument supported by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal ruling in Naquin's favor. Knoll said the "scheme" laid out in Baudin's interpretation of the Fair Competition Act is "self-defeating."
Blanchard also reported that Chief Judge Pascal Calogero Jr. asked about a provision of the law that prevents LUS from cross-subsidizing its communications business with tax revenue or "below market-rate" loans.
"Doesn't that mean it's OK?" Calogero asked Baudin. "If they're not below market rate?"
Sounds like a good day in court for LUS. The Supreme Court could render its decision within two to three months. ' Scott Jordan
Don't expect to see lavish Christmas decorations at the Lafayette Airport this year. Amid intense public scrutiny of its spending policies, the Lafayette Airport Commission has decided to pull the plug on its traditional year-end Christmas party. "Basically we decided it'd be best to just cancel it," says newly-elected commission Chairman Carroll Robichaux. "We don't think it's a problem but we're going to wait for the attorney general's opinion on the things that were questioned by the public."
Since taking over as chairman last month, Robichaux has been trying to rein in airport spending. Last week he ordered that all non-essential staff expenses must first be approved by the commission's finance committee. Meanwhile, the attorney general and state legislative auditor are reviewing receipts and other financial data of the airport commission to determine whether it has misused public funds. An investigation by a coalition of concerned residents brought to light questionable spending practices on parties, meals and travel for commissioners and potential airport clients.
Last year, the airport commission spent approximately $7,800 on its Christmas Party, which is held at the airport restaurant each year. The bill for the party, catered by The Townhouse, included a $4,375 bar tab along with $2,987 for a buffet spread and $500 worth of door prizes.
Robichaux notes that the event has customarily been an important networking function. "It's more of a publicity event," he says. "We're thanking our clients, the travel agents, our tenants, the airport staff, and the public." ' Nathan Stubbs
DRY HOLE DOLLARS
It took the state more than a year to draft the rules and regulations, but a new program has finally been launched to help oil companies recoup their losses from so-called dry holes. The law, which technically went into effect last summer, aims to assist oil-and-gas companies after an expensive drilling operation turns up nothing but silt and sand. Formally, it's called the Developed Resources in Louisiana Act, or DRIL, and it allows companies that hit a dry hole to deduct 50 percent of the royalties they owe on the next good well they drill. Financial forecasts originally attached to the legislation estimated a return from the program of more than $1 billion over the next 26 years. State officials hope the program will help bring back old oil towns like Venice and continue strengthening hot spots like Port Fourchon.
As an environmental side note, the law also requires oil companies to mitigate 1.25 acres of land for every one acre of wetland impacted. Dave Meloy, a geologist supervisor with the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, says the law could bolster drilling activity, as it helps companies to continue investing in the state ' and it's an incentive not found in neighboring regions. "As far as I know other states don't offer this," he says. Eligible wells must be drilled in offshore waters at a depth greater than 19,999 feet. On average, such an undertaking can cost companies upwards to $30 million, Meloy says, which explains why such a tax credit is needed to encourage more exploration of its kind. "Right now 20,000-foot wells are expensive, and they'll always be expensive to drill," he says. "That's not going to change." ' Jeremy Alford
THE SHARKS ARE CIRCLING
The smell of money is wafting through the political waters, and legislators are eyeing the special session that kicks off this week. There's an $825 million surplus to be spent, and everyone seems to have an opinion on it ' and there could possibly be another $800 million up for grabs from this year's budget. Some lawmakers want to spend it on roads, Gov. Kathleen Blanco wants to cut thousands of insurance rebate checks for Louisiana residents, and others want to wait to spend the money. Even the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations ' a traditionally quiet presence around the Capitol ' has tossed in its two cents. "This is a great opportunity for the state to think differently about our future," says Melissa Flournoy, LANO's president. "Reforming the capital outlay system, investing the housing trust fund and supporting the child care quality rating system are vital to rebuilding systems to meet the needs of the state." Further details on the group's proposed priorities are included in its new report, "Louisiana Budget Basics: Guide to the Louisiana Budget." Meanwhile, political heavies like the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the largest lobby in the state, are leaning in on their points of interest. Specifically, the statewide business association has called for using the extra revenue to pay down debt, advance priority highway improvements, initiate coastal restoration projects, bolster flood control, improve health care delivery, reduce taxes and create a state-supported reinsurance fund. With an election year around the corner, everyone will be watching what's doled out. "The choices they make on how that money is used will be the biggest issue in the elections coming up next year," says Dan Juneau, president of LABI. ' JA
FARMERS TAKEN BY SURPRISE
Farmers and ranchers in Louisiana are still bristling at the recent news that the popular guaranteed loan program many are eligible for could expire at the end of the year. There has been no official warning from the federal government and it now appears up to Congress to save the day. However, drumming up support for a simple extension of a Farm Bill provision has proven difficult during this lame-duck session. The larger bill is considered somewhat controversial, while the smaller loan provision isn't as volatile ' still, they're connected. The entire congressional delegation sent a letter to the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, but there hasn't been any movement yet. The Farm Service Agency loan program provides operating money to "several hundred" farms in Louisiana, according to U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, a Lafayette Republican. "A temporary extension will allow these family farms to stay operational until the current Farm Bill is reauthorized," he says. For now, the clock is ticking louder each day, but December is expected to be a busy month as countless measures are rushed through this Congress' final days. ' JA
PETROLEUM HELICOPTERS INC. AND KRIS KRISTOFFERSON
PHI has been in the news for the bitter strike showdown between PHI management and its pilots, but last week's Times-Picayune story on legendary songwriter Kris Kristofferson details a brighter, little-known chapter in PHI history:
Kristofferson, writer of classics such as "Me and Bobby McGee," "Why Me" and "Help Me Make It Through the Night," told the T-P how his 1960s work with PHI in the Louisiana oil fields yielded some of his biggest hits. "That was about the last three years before I started performing, before people started cutting my songs," he said. "I would work a week down here for PHI, sitting on an oil platform and flying helicopters. Then I'd go back to Nashville at the end of the week and spend a week up there trying to pitch the songs, then come back down and write songs for another week." â?¦ "I can remember 'Help Me Make It Through The Night' I wrote sitting on top of an oil platform. I wrote 'Bobby McGee' down here, and a lot of them." ' SJ
OK, so they’re bentgrass, the type used on golf course greens. But grass is grass.
The Senate Finance Committee approved the bill Wednesday, despite opponents who argued it would shut down the storefront lenders.
A measure to allow the state to implement its own, less stringent plan for limiting carbon dioxide emissions unanimously passed the Senate.
FDA to regulate e-cigarettes, Jodie Foster gets married, Vermont to require labels on genetically-modified food, and more news for today, April 24, 2014.
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
A push to expand Louisiana's Medicaid program as allowed under the federal health care has been overwhelmingly rejected by the Senate health committee.
Louisiana welfare recipients would be prohibited in state law from spending the federal assistance at lingerie shops, tattoo parlors, nail salons and jewelry stores, under a bill that received the support Wednesday of a House committee.
Senators will consider whether to prohibit private businesses in Louisiana from paying unequal wages to employees of different genders for the same job.
Rep. Joel Robideaux has delayed bill hearings and said unless a compromise can be reached, he won't bring up the legislation this session.
Once again, Lafayette Parish School Board President Hunter Beasley is focused on an issue that has nothing to do with the educational well-being of our public school children.
After exhausting his appeals all the way to the state Supreme Court, the owner of the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete has no legal remedy left save one: do an end run around the high court via a bill that would grandfather his “right” to keep a 550-pound tiger enclosed in a pin at his roadside business.
Louisiana poet Darrell Bourque has won the 2014 Louisiana Writer Award, given annually to recognize outstanding contributions to Louisiana's literary and intellectual life.
Drivers would have to secure dogs riding in truck beds while on interstate highways, if the Senate agrees to a bill backed by the House.
An effort to prohibit employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity was shelved Tuesday for the legislative session.
Louisiana won't lessen its penalties for marijuana possession, keeping laws on the books that allow people to be jailed up to 20 years for repeat offenses of having the drug in hand.
“This is one of the oldest divides that exists, and that divide is about the haves and the have-nots.”
It took a few weeks for the pitfalls to emerge in the governor’s $25 billion budget, but the time of judgment has finally arrived.
With pressure continuing to build for him to resign, Congressman Vance McAllister announced plans recently to remain secluded during the Easter break, but the Swartz Republican has said he’ll be back on the Hill casting votes and attending committee meetings when the congressional recess ends April 28.
A bid to limit the use of unmanned aircraft on private property in Louisiana stalled Monday in the Louisiana Senate.
A Shreveport lawmaker said Monday he's scrapping his proposal to name the Bible as Louisiana's official state book.
Attorney hopes fellow lawyers will join him in urging the D.A. to step aside and allow a competent, ethical challenger to take over the scandal-ridden office.
An official with the Louisiana Department of Education was arrested on a range of charges Friday after allegedly breaking into a home and brandishing a knife.
State Rep. Stuart Bishop says he’s concerned with the quality of Capitol Lake, but when it comes to Louisiana’s coastline, this Lafayette Republican doesn't seem to give a damn.
Democrats sweating this year's elections may be hoping that the Obama administration's latest delay to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline takes a politically fraught issue off the table for the midterms.
Louisiana lawmakers are entering the second half of their three-month regular legislative session, which must end by June 2. Where some of the major issues stand: