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
"I am extremely disheartened by the political machines that are attempting to hijack my efforts along with others that advocate for children."
Landrieu, who is fighting to keep her seat for a fourth term, said that Ebola is serious and precautions should be taken, but she accused Republicans of using the virus outbreak in West Africa to "create fear" here at home.
Law enforcement agencies are participating in a "Louisiana Heroin Summit," designed to address the recent rise in heroin use and drug-related deaths around the state.
State education officials are preparing to release performance scores for public schools and public school districts.
Saints coach Sean Payton is starting a new week by emphasizing, repeatedly, the many good things he noticed during New Orleans' latest loss.
Tuesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Oscar de la Renta dies; Pistorius sentenced; World Series begins and more national and international news for Tuesday, October 21, 2014.
We will be offering our recommendations on the constitutional amendments tomorrow.
The justices did not comment in leaving in place lower court rulings that dismissed the lawsuits against BP and other companies involved in the worst U.S. offshore oil spill.
White registration is down by 7,700 voters while black registration has shot up by 7,100 voters.
Even though it had been rumored for months, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu finally pulled the trigger recently on a major campaign shakeup that moved control over to a few Big Easy insiders.
Louisiana's health department says it will seek law changes to stop billing sexual assault victims for exams and tests.
It wasn’t the historic slashes to higher ed funding or the ensuing tuition spikes that recently had LSU’s student body and faculty riled up in collective outrage.
Will $400 be enough for the re-election campaign of LPSB's Hunter Beasley to overcome two years of holding our school system hostage and hurting the education of our children all because of a personal dislike of the superintendent?
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said Friday he expects his playing status in Detroit to be decided by coach Sean Payton on Sunday, shortly before the game.
Lawmakers have sidestepped a decision on whether they accept claims from Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration that the state closed last year's books with a nearly $179 million surplus.
Coming off the high of a fourth quarter comeback against Tampa Bay and a helpful bye week, linebacker Junior Galette sees a real turnaround coming for New Orleans' struggling defense.
Former President Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party's most popular surrogate this fall, is heading to Louisiana early next week for a campaign rally with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.
Time and again you hear people say DA Mike Harson is unbeatable because he's doled out political favors over the past 20 years. But a new lawsuit could end that speculation.
After the season's signature win (so far), here are some helpful tips for Cajun Nation during the conference stretch.
Did the state close last year's books with a surplus or a deficit?
Practicing without limitations on Wednesday, running back Mark Ingram looked ready to return to a New Orleans offense that once again ranks among the NFL's best when the Saints play at Detroit on Sunday.
It’s been decided: Superintendents of Louisiana’s public school system will retain the controversial powers granted by Act 1 of the 2012 session.
Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy has a bone to pick with the Jindal administration, which recently — surprise! — announced that the state ended the most recent budget year with a $178.5 million dollar surplus.
The messaging battle, however, isn't tied to individual campaign accounts. Third-party groups have poured millions of dollars into advertising.