Virus impact on Louisiana state finances pegged at $1B

(Photo Credit: MGN)

Published: May 11, 2020

By: Catherine Hunt, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGELouisiana’s revenues are expected to drop by $1 billion or more due to the coronavirus, threatening cuts to services in the fiscal year starting July 1, state economists told the Revenue Estimating Conference Monday.

The four-member group adopted the lower forecast, which could translate into a 10 percent cut in the state’s discretionary funding, as Louisiana grapples with high levels of unemployment, falling oil prices and business closures because of the pandemic.

“There’s no crisis we’ve had that even comes close to this,” said Greg Albrecht, the Legislature’s chief economist.

The economists released their estimates shortly before Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that the state will be entering the first phase of the reopening process on Friday. He said he would loosen restrictions on businesses such as restaurants, gyms and salons. These businesses, along with churches, will be allowed to operate with 25% occupancy. However, bars, amusement parks and tattoos parlors will remain closed.

Even so, Albrecht projected an $867 million loss in general tax collections in the next fiscal year and about $165 million in tax and fee dollars for specific agencies.

Health services and higher education are typically the most vulnerable to budget cuts because they are not protected by mandated spending laws.

Falling oil and gas prices are responsible for much of the damage. Albrecht and Manfred Dix, the chief economist for Governor Edward’s administration, projected oil prices to be between $28 to $32 a barrel.

In addition, the projection calls for revenues to decrease by $362 million in the current fiscal year, with $123 million of that total coming from the state’s general tax collection.

Albrecht and Dix said they are highly uncertain of most of their estimates, since the data is distorted because of the coronavirus. It is difficult to determine how people will react once businesses do reopen, they said.

“People have to feel comfortable going out,” Albrecht said, “I don’t think people are going to be real comfortable for a while.”

Read more at KALB.com.

 

Will mail-in ballots be expanded in Louisiana due to coronavirus?

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin proposed greater temporary use of mail-in ballots than the Legislature was willing to approve.

Published: May 2, 2020

By: Paige Daniel and Abigail Hendren, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE — Three blue states — Washington, Oregon and Colorado — conduct all of their elections through mail-in votes, and four red states — Wyoming, Montana, Utah and Alaska — are joining them this year in conducting their presidential primaries entirely through mail ballots.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, 28 other states have announced plans to increase access to absentee ballots or take other actions to keep voters from lining up at polling places.

Yet, in deciding on Tuesday to delay Louisiana’s presidential primary to July 11, the Legislature insisted that state election officials scale back plans to rely less on in-person voting and more on mail voting to reduce the health risks.

Republican legislators expressed concern that more mail-in ballots could increase the potential for voter fraud. But national election experts say there have been few instances of fraud as other states have expanded voting by mail. And even once the risks from the virus ease, they say, Louisiana could increase voter turnout if it made greater use of alternative voting methods.

Voter turnout in governor’s races in Louisiana declined steadily for several decades, from 54% in 1979 to 31% in 2011 before rebounding to 51% last fall, according to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office. Turnout in presidential elections in Louisiana has stayed higher, at 55% to 60% of eligible voters, though voting-rights advocates fear it could slip this year if voters do not feel safe.

Voting by mail is “something we’ve thought was important for a while now, but with the current state of the world, we now believe it is not only important, but essential to the democratic process,” Catherine McKinney, the director of the Louisiana Vote-by-Mail initiative, said.

“Now it is not only easier but imperative to keeping our poll workers and our voters safe from a global pandemic,” she said.

Read more at the Shreveport Times.

Sons of Klansmen haunted by sins of their fathers

James Poissot

Published: April 28, 2020

Children of Klansmen are sometimes haunted by the sins of their fathers.

James Poissot, of Baton Rouge, never knew his father, but knew he was a violent man who beat James’ mother so severely decades ago that she miscarried.

In Rayville, the late William L. “Boo” Spencer grew up under the direct influence of his dad and consequently spent time behind bars, at times raging against the world and spewing racist hate.

Although the two sons never knew one another, James Poissot and Boo Spencer shared a common bond: their fathers were implicated in the same half-century-old Louisiana murder.

Earlier this year, while employed as a facility services worker at LSU, James Poissot observed a framed The New York Times article hanging on the wall of the Journalism Building. It described the unsolved 1964 murder of Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris, whose business was torched on a chilly night 15 days before Christmas.

Sleeping in a back room when he heard glass breaking in front of his shop, Morris confronted two Klan arsonists, who fled the scene while he was trapped inside the flaming building. He died four days later.

Poissot looked at the article, pointed to the photo of Morris’ face and told the receptionist he believed his father was one of the men responsible for Morris’ death.

“I walk by, and I see a picture of the gentleman my dad killed,” Poissot said. “And I did say it without any hesitations.”

Morris had operated the shoe shop since the 1930s. His business had a devoted black and white clientele. Due to the racial climate of the era, Morris walked outside to take or deliver orders of white women who sat in their parked cars.

For years there were rumors that the Klan had killed Morris because he allowed black men and white women to have sex in a backroom of his shop. But an investigation by the Concordia Sentinel in Ferriday found not a shred of evidence or a single witness to verify that any of that was true.

In 2010, Boo Spencer told the newspaper that he, his mother and his uncle had heard both Coonie Poissot, James’ father, and Leonard Spencer, Boo’s father, confess to the shoe shop arson. The three relatives also told the FBI.

Read more at The Advocate or at the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.

Coronavirus: Temporary shuttering of Louisiana’s casino industry upsetting local economies

Published: April 23, 2020

By: Allison Kadlubar, LSU Manship School News Service

LAKE CHARLES — Lake Charles attracts visitors to its restaurants, events and outdoor adventures, but its luxury casino resorts dominate the city’s hospitality and tourism industry.

The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, has shuttered these money-making machines for seven weeks, leaving the booming Lake Charles economically filled with uncertainties.

Tye Robinson, a bellhop at Golden Nugget Lake Charles, collected his last tips from Golden Nugget guests over a month ago.

“I would get a lot of tips, so I would use my cash on my bills and daily necessities,” he said.

Robinson was working at the casino when he learned of the closure due to COVID-19.

“I found out the day before we shut the operations down, and I found out from a news report,” he said. “It was news to me.”

Robinson and his co-workers lived in uncertainty for a week before the casino informed employees. Robinson received one month’s pay and immediately filed an unemployment claim.

“I’m thankful for unemployment for saving me,” he said.

Although the closing of the casino industry is impacting his life, it also is causing serious economic problems for the rest of the community and the state.

Gaming operations in the Lake Charles area amassed more than $906 million in revenue in 2018, distributing more than $36 million throughout Calcasieu Parish, according to a KPLC-TV report. The hospitality and tourism industry ranks No. 2 behind the petrochemical industry as an economic driver in the area.

Read more at the Daily Advertiser.

Coronavirus: LSU Professor creates website to help public identify, avoid fake news

LSU Professor Leonard Apcar speaks about his website, detectfakenews.com, during a panel discussion at the school.

(Photo credit: Augustus Stark/LSU Reveille)

Published: March 18, 2020

By: Katherine Manuel, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE — Circulation of misinformation about the coronavirus and other fake news is a threat to social-media consumers worldwide, but one LSU professor is leading a team of students to educate the public through a website.

Leonard Apcar, a professor at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication, founded detectfakenews.com, a site designed to inform audiences about the dangers of fake news and offer tools to identify it, including misinformation surrounding COVID-19.

LSU Professor Len Apcar has been studying fake news for several years. According to the website, identifying fake news involves checking the quotes, images, attribution, sources, bias and a website’s URL address. Apcar says media consumers should look for independent and corroborated reporting.

The site posts articles that identify fake items, and Apcar and his students update followers via a Twitter account, @detectfakenews.

One of the stories, by a French news agency, describes how social media accounts linked to Russia have launched a coordinated campaign to spread panic about the coronavirus through fake news. The article says that the Russian accounts are spreading conspiracies that the United States was behind the COVID-19 outbreak.

Some posts say that the virus was manufactured by the CIA to disrupt China’s economy, while others falsely blame the charitable foundation led by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates for spreading it.

The LSU site also includes an article from the Washington Post, in which a State Department official blames Russia for spreading the misinformation, and an article from the New York Times about Britain’s efforts to combat coronavirus disinformation.

“The best way to guard against this is, first of all, to read the story,” Apcar said. “Too many people read headlines and just pass along stories, both true and false.”

Read more at the Daily Advertiser.

Houma lawmaker criticizes Edwards’ stay-at-home extension

State representative wants to lower sales tax - News - Houma Today ...                                                                                    Photo Credit: Houma Today

Published: April 28, 2020

By:

BATON ROUGE—A Houma lawmaker criticized Gov. John Bel Edwards today for extending his statewide stay-at-home order through May 15 instead of opening parts of the state sooner.

Rep. Tanner Magee, who as speaker pro temp is the second ranking Republican in the state House, said Edwards’ decision not to let many businesses reopen more quickly will have consequences on the GOP-led Legislature’s willingness to work with him in a bipartisan way when lawmakers reconvene after a nearly two-month recess.

“There were windows of bipartisanship, and I think they probably closed yesterday,” Magee said in an interview. “We’re moving toward a very anti-bipartisan mood.”

The governor’s decision to extend the shutdown longer than many legislators wanted “was really hurtful,” Magee said. “Not intentionally, but in having new members come in that had never been through the process before, and they’re very much itching to do something to lead with this crisis. They feel helpless back in their districts because they can’t do anything, and that has caused a situation where people are kind of spiraling out to the wings.”

Edwards and Republican leaders have worked together reasonably well so far through the COVID-19 pandemic, which has sickened more than 27,000 state residents and killed more than 1,750.

Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, who is running for reelection, accompanied Edwards at his briefing Friday and agreed the state should only begin to reopen once data about the spread of the virus meets guidelines created by the Trump Administration.

But business groups and some Republican state lawmakers had been urging Edwards to let areas that have not had significant numbers of cases open next weekend, and Magee’s comments signal rising tensions over the timetable.

The tensions come as legislators and the governor need to work together to pass a new budget even as the state’s finances are being decimated by the cost of fighting the virus and the collapse in tax revenue from major industries like gambling, oil and gas and tourism.

Read more at Houma Today.

Crime is down in Louisiana for areas heeding stay at home order

Photo Credit: 4WWL.com

Published: April 28, 2020

By: Kathleen Peppo, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE, La. — Along with the expected tolls that Gov. John Bel Edwards’s stay-at-home order has taken on citizens across Louisiana, the new normal has had a positive side effect: Crime rates have fallen substantially in cities and towns that are following it.

With the options to roam the streets and hang out in groups ruled out, towns whose citizens are taking the order seriously have seen significantly lower rates of crime and relatively few arrests. On the other hand, crime rates in areas that are continuing life without as much focus on the stay-at-home order are virtually the same as before it was put in place, police say.

A spot check suggests that crime has dropped in the biggest cities—New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport and Lafayette–and in many smaller spots around the state. Except for a shooting that wounded two juveniles last week, Eunice has seen less crime along with less traffic and less activity all around. Randy Fontenot, Eunice’s chief of police, said the town has been “extremely quiet.”

Fontenot said that the Eunice Police Department made only several arrests during each of the last two weekends, an unusually low number.

“We’re making some, but our daily logs are usually about two or three pages long, and, lately, some have been only half a page,” he said.

With so many public places closed or operating with very little human contact, crime is hardly an option in some areas. People cannot sit inside restaurants, peruse stores freely or roam the streets. There is little to no group activity, and crime is becoming less and less convenient.

Sgt. Wayne Griffin said that the Lafayette Police Department has “seen a real decrease in crime with the stay-at-home order in effect. We’ve seen less stores open, less people on the roads, less people at work, so we’ve had less incidents for sure.”

“Our citizens have been really great about adhering to the orders,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate that people are kind of just staying at home, doing their things, doing some honey dos.”

Read more at 4WWL.com.