News for Tuesday 021616
By Dave Graichen
Severe storms moved across the state Monday causing some minor damage here in Alexandria. Police say strong winds caused to damage to a car wash and a Pizza Hut in the south end of town, injuring two employees inside the restaurant. Authorities say the injuries were not serious. In parts of south Louisiana there were reports of hail.
Amid mounting public opposition, Clean Harbors Colfax has withdrawn its request to be allowed to quadruple its open burning of toxic waste in Grant Parish. The company had requested a permit modification from the state Department of Environmental Quality to allow it to increase the annual amount of net explosive weight that it openly burns from about 500,000 pounds to more than 2 million pounds. A company official says with the decision for the explosive M6 and other materials to be burned on site at Camp Minden there became no need for the permit modification to move forward.
Today the Edwards Administration began detailing its tax proposals that will be debated during the special session. Governor Edwards recommends a combination of budget cuts and revenue raising actions as a way to solve the state’s budget deficit. State Department of Revenue Secretary Kimberly Robinson spoke to the House Ways and Means Committee about a proposed 1-cent state sales tax increase. Robinson said the so-called “clean penny tax” would not apply to areas of exemption including groceries, residential utilities, prescription medications and gas. Robinson says the additional penny on the state sales tax would be temporary, until the deficit is resolved.
The Republican Party is raising money to promote an ad that shows Governor John Bel Edwards saying on several occasions he would not raise taxes. The comments were taken when Edwards was running for governor. Louisiana Republican Party Executive Director Jason Dore says the governor promised to balance the budget by having fiscal responsibility and growing the economy, not by increasing taxes. Louisiana Democratic Party executive director Stephen Handwerk is disappointed by the GOP’s tactics. Handwerk says “there is no more fat to cut” in many programs, especially not fast enough to resolve the huge budget shortfall.
A published report says Nicholls State is considering closing its doors for 12 days because of a lack of state funds. But Nicholls president, Doctor Bruce Murphy, says closing the campus for several days is the last option they would ever take. University of Louisiana System president, Doctor Dan Reneau, encouraged the Senate education committee to do what they can to keep college campuses open. Lawmakers have until March ninth to come up with a funding solution that would spare higher education from deep budget cuts.
Parents may not be able to count on the TOPS scholarship in the future, according to certified financial planner Anne Osestriecher. (Osh-striker) The state funded scholarship program has run into funding troubles as part of the state’s budget crisis. Osestriecher, who works out of Alexandria, says parents who have students that could be eligible for TOPS need to prepare for tuition costs. Osestriecher says it could make more financial sense for parents to have their children live at home, while attending college. She says that will cut down on costly room and board expenses. She says applying for other scholarships is also an option. She says many scholarships go unclaimed every year because students simply do not apply for them.
Former state lawmaker Troy Hebert provided other suggestions on how to control government spending in a letter to lawmakers. Hebert recommends putting GPS devices on state vehicles and requiring state employees, including college professors, to be on a time clock while at work. Hebert’s other suggestions include tying pay to performance and monitoring civil service actions and settlements.
An arrest warrant has been issued for a former Department of Children and Family Services case worker, who allegedly falsified records regarding foster home visits when she worked for the state. 49-year-old Kimberly Lee of Calhoun is facing several criminal counts, including malfeasance in office. Inspector General Stephen Street says Lee is expected to surrender herself this week. Street says over a period of a year, between July of 2013 and August of 2014, Lee falsified documents on 20 separate occasions. He says after being interviewed by investigators, she admitted to falsifying the reports.
President Barack Obama is expected to nominate a successor to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, but Louisiana’s Republican US senators say the next President should select Scalia’s replacement. Senator David Vitter, who is a member of the judiciary committee, says the next Justice debate should be part of the presidential election.