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Louisiana's budget problems are getting worse. The Revenue Estimating Conference has revised the deficit for this fiscal year from 750-million to 870-million dollars. The legislature's chief economist Greg Albrecht says Louisiana's lagging economy is impacting state tax collections.


"For all practical purposes Louisiana is entering it's own recession, it's an oil-based recession. We have different cycle than the rest of the country and we entering what amounts to a state recession," Albrecht said.
 
The budget deficit for next fiscal year has swelled past two billion dollars. Low oil prices are to blame for the less than anticipated revenues, but that's not the only issue. Albrecht says corporate tax collections are also very week. 
 
State lawmakers will meet for a special session that starts on Sunday and attempt to come up with a rebalanced budget that takes into account the 870-million dollar shortfall. 

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Drive up ashes for people on this Ash Wednesday are becoming increasingly popular in our fast paced lives. LSU Religious Studies professor Michael Pasquier says that these mobile ash distribution sites are in response to busy lifestyles.

“I think in a way it’s just kind of a realistic reaction to the congregations,” Pasquier said.

Pasquier says that some churches may have to accept that members of the congregation do not have time for the regular Ash Wednesday services.

“Many churches today know that you’re not gonna get the cheeks in the seats, so to speak, unless you can tailor your services to meet the busy schedules of day to day life,” Pasquier said.

“If it means that they have to reduce the time it takes for them to do that then that sounds like it’s a decision that some churches are making,” Pasquier said.

Pasquier says that offering services like drive up ashes is something more churches might have to consider to cater to their members’ schedules. 
 

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Governor John Bel Edwards will discuss the state's huge budget deficit during a special address to the public that will air Thursday night at 6:30 on major television and radio stations. ULM Political Science Professor Dr. Joshua Stockley says it's rare for a governor of Louisiana to give a televised speech, but he needs to explain the situation to a mass audience.

“He’s hoping that by informing the public, the public will put pressure on the legislature and the legislature will come to the table to enact some of the reforms.”

Stockley says Governor Edwards will likely inform the public that we are in a severe fiscal crisis and there will be no easy solutions to fix this problem. He says difficult decisions will have to be made by the legislature. 

“Particularly in repealing some of our tax expenditures that have been inefficient. Perhaps even asking to raise certain taxes among the general public.”

Stockley says the governor is making an effort to restore the fiscal foundation of the state, without making huge cuts to higher education and health care.
 
“If we continue to do these things it will be more and more difficult to keep our brightest individuals within the state and simultaneously to lure companies to the state.”
 
 
 

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State lawmakers have started filing bills for the special session, and one of the first measures proposed would increase the state tax on a pack of cigarettes another 22-cents to $1.08 per pack. West Monroe Representative Frank Hoffman says this tax will generate more state revenue and could save money on healthcare if the tax encourages people to quit smoking.

“So it brings in money immediately from the tax issue, but also, of course, it saves us in the long run on healthcare as well,” Hoffman said.

Last year lawmakers increased the tax on a pack of cigarettes by 50-cents. If the proposed bill passes, the tax will go into effect on April 1. Hoffman says the state needs the additional money from the tax this year as the state faces an 892-million dollar shortfall this year…

“We need the immediate help for the rest of this year, so we want to make that as quickly as possible,” Hoffman said.

The special session to address the state’s budget will start Sunday, and it will last three and half weeks. Hoffman says he’ll push a higher cigarette tax, but it is still important to make cuts in the budget while increasing revenue.

“I do think it’s very important that we look at cuts first where we can still cut the size of government down across the state,” Hoffman said.

 
 

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A member of the Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board says we could see one of the best years for crawfish out of the Atchafalaya basin in recent memory. Wild crawfish farmer Sherbin Collette of Henderson credits El Nino for providing warmer weather and high waters that will contribute to both the size and number of wild crawfish.

“So it’s El Nino that’s doing it because it’s very rare to get flood waters that early in the season, which in turn is gonna help in the basin,” Collette said.

The high waters flushed out many swamps that have not been fished in years, leading to an abundance of crawfish. Collette says the crawfish should be bigger this season because of the warmer, cleaner water in the basin.

“They haven’t fished them in a few years, and whatever’s gonna run there, it’s gonna be big crawfish. There’s no doubt about that,” Collette said.

Although the crawfish should be big and plentiful, don’t expect to see much of a drop in price. Collette explains that more people will be fishing for crawfish to make a living due to fewer jobs in the oil industry.

“Of course, people have to understand the price can go down a certain amount because if it goes down too much, the fishermen cant’ make it,” Collette said.

Crawfish season in Louisiana runs mid-January through early-July with the peak months being March, April and May.

 
 

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Michelle Southern reporting.
State Representative Mike Johnson, a Republican from Bossier City, announces his candidacy in the wide open 4th Congressional District race. The seat is being vacated by Congressman John Fleming who's running for US Senate. Political analyst Elliott Stonecipher says Johnson joins many other names that have expressed interest in the race.


"The next thing I want to know is how much money any of these people have," said Stonecipher. "Will they be self funded if they are otherwise relatively wealthy?"

Johnson gained name recognition after authoring the controversial "religious freedom" bill in the legislature. The measure failed but grew support from groups who oppose same-sex marriage, and criticism from those saying the bill would promote discrimination.

Stonecipher says these candidates will need to curry favor with voters in Caddo.

"Caddo Parish is not nearly as pointed toward those social issues as Bossier is," said Stonecipher.

Stonecipher says this is anyone's race as the voters of the 4th District aren't used to having so many candidates to choose from.

"People just didn't think John Fleming would be giving up this seat," said Stonecipher. "That's all flown open now and you're gonna have a rush I think."
 
 
 
 
 
 

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According to a complex algorithm developed by the website Roadsnacks, Central is the most boring town in the state of Louisiana. Spokesperson Nick James says most would agree that people who are older than 65, are married, and have kids are typically boring.

He says they looked at city population data to come up with their list of 10 most boring Louisiana places.

“Places like Central, Mandeville, Franklin, these are places that 4 out of 10 people are married, have kids, there are a lot of older folks.”

Coming in second place was Mandeville, Franklin 3rd, Springhill 4th and Minden 5th. James says towns where the population is younger, they aren’t tied down and go out and have fun are the places that weren’t ranked as boring. He says they did this research scientifically without polling and seem to get positive results.

“We’ve heard back from a lot of people and every time we do a boring cities and a state list people, most people seem to generally agree. I think we kind of hit it on the head.”

Rounding out the top ten were the cities of Slidell, Zachary, Oakdale, Covington, and Denham Springs. James says these towns are not bad, they just don’t have as much going on as New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Lafayette.


“It’s just something to kind of share on social media and talk about and kind of chuckle at. But next time we come out with a list I’m sure we’ll upset a few people, we always do with our lists.”

 
 
 

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Michelle Southern reporting.
Lafayette Congressman Charles Boustany introduces legislation that seeks to block President Obama's proposed $10 tax on a barrel of oil to pay for a new 21st century clean transportation system. Boustany says a new tax on oil will hit an industry that has already struggled over the past year.


"Those taxes will get passed on down to the pump," says Boustany. "And this will hurt the families who depend on these jobs and families who are already hurting now."

Boustany says it's not right that the president is trying to fund his environmental agenda on the backs of hard-working Louisiana families in the oil & gas sector.

"To arbitrarily impose this type of tax is going to be very bad economic policy," says Boustany. "It's redistribution at its worst."

Boustany says many sectors that support the oil and gas industry are also suffering in the face of these historic low prices per barrel. He says in the last quarter of 2015, national economic growth slowed to 0.7 percent.

"That's not good. How can we create jobs and opportunity in this country with that kind of very anemic growth," says Boustany. "This type of policy will cause further harm across our economy and it's just not a good idea."
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The website Trulia ranked the most Saintly Sanctuaries and Sin cities in the country and to no surprise, New Orleans comes in a number one for a sinful city. Spokesperson Filipe Chacon says they complied the seven deadly sins to decide which places were full of envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth, vanity, and wrath.

“For example you look at something like lust. We just took the number of adult entertainment establishments per household and we ranked each city based on that.”

Chacon says the number of gambling establishments per household ranked highly in the categories of lust and greed for New Orleans. He says Shreveport came in as the number seven sin city in the country and both Louisiana cities come in pretty high on the list for sloth.

“So you look at something like sloth, which is a measure of people who fail to exercise in the period of a month and both cities rank about average on that metric.”

Chacon says Shreveport and New Orleans beat out the original “sin city” because of Las Vegas’ low numbers in envy and gluttony. He says New Orleans ranked number one, despite receiving a low ranking for vanity.

“One surprise for New Orleans, despite being above average on most of the categories, they were below average on vanity. The number of beauty salons, tanning salons and plastic surgeon offices.”

 
 
 

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It’s a beautiful day for the Courier de Mardi Gras in Mamou. Mayor Ricky Fontenot says not only does this Mardi Gras celebration has a great economic impact on the town but it’s also been a tradition for years and years. He says they partake in the festivities a little differently than New Orleans.

“We have just a traditional Mardi Gras and then we have a Zydeco Run, which is a unique situation here in Mamou, field chasing the chickens. It’s just a lovely day to be in Mamou.”

Fontenot says Mamou is like a little New Orleans because people from all over flock there for the Mardi Gras celebrations. He says the traditional celebration starts off early at 6 am.

“On the traditional run, horseback, trailers and normal Mardi Gras stuff. They get out there pretty early and start chasing them chickens and get on back and cook a gumbo.”

Fontenot says the last three years the weather has been horrible so everyone is looking forward to today’s sunshine. He says it’s important to keep these traditions going because it’s part of Mamou’s heritage.

“We love the Cajun music, we love the Zydeco music. We gather once a year and just have a good time. And of course tomorrow we’ll start out Lenten season like everyone else and shut it down.”

 
 
 

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Governor John Bel Edwards has put together a special web page to solicit public input on how to handle the state’s budget crisis. The governor’s director of communications Richard Carbo explains that the purpose of the site is to inform the public and get suggestions from citizens.



"One of the initiatives that we put out this week was kind of not only a frequently asked questions webpage but also an opportunity for citizens to provide their feedback,” Carbo said. 

The site can be found at gov.louisiana.gov. Governor Edwards has made several suggestions for stabilizing the budget, which is facing a 750 million dollar shortfall this fiscal year and 1-point-9 billion dollars next fiscal year. Carbo emphasizes the importance of public involvement and encourages people to contact their legislator.

“So it's important for everyone to get involved, to stay involved, to call their legislatures, call the governor's office and give us your feedback,” Carbo said. 

The website features a form that allows people to ask additional questions about the state budget. Carbo says that the Governor’s Office will do it’s best to answer all the questions submitted through the website.

“We're gonna do our best to respond to them, you know, as quickly as possible. And if we're not the best people to answer them, get you to the appropriate agency to provide some information,” Carbo said. 

A special session to address the state’s budget issues is set to begin Sunday.

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A statue honoring the late Pete Maravich has been approved by the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame Committee. The legendary athlete is still college basketball’s all-time leading scorer at 3,667 points. Former LSU Basketball player Collis Temple Jr. says Maravich’s scoring record is unrivaled and is happy there will be statue of “Pistol Pete."

"Pete Maravich was the greatest scorer in the history of college basketball. There will never be anybody that will rival what he did,” Temple Jr. said. 

The stumbling block for a Maravich statue has been that “Pistol Pete” passed away a few credit hours short of earning an LSU degree. The LSU Board of Supervisors recently made changes to a policy that opened the door for a Maravich statue. Temple Jr. says Maravich deserves this honor…

"He deserves it, just as Petit deserved, and just as Shaquille it deserved it," Temple Jr. said.

Shaquille O’ Neal’s statue is in front of the entrance to the LSU basketball facility. Another statue will go up later this month for Bot Petit. The design for Maravich’s statue will be announced in the coming months, and it wiill be erected on campus next to the building named for him. Temple Jr. says Maravich deserves a statue because of the positive impact he had on LSU.

"He did so much to bring about all kinds of changes and all kinds of positive perspectives to Louisiana and Louisiana State University,” Temple Jr. said. 

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It’s Mardi Gras Day and the hottest spot to celebrate in the nation is in Louisiana. Fat Tuesday expert Arthur Hardy, who puts out a comprehensive guide to all things Carnival, says he can not remember the last time we’ve had such beautiful weather for the parades. 
 
"To get 12 days with no rain is almost impossible in New Orleans in February or March, come on. And yet I don't think we've had a drop of rain in the entire parade season. It's just remarkable," Hardy said.
 
 There are also events all over south Louisiana today like the unique Courir de Mardi Gras chicken runs in the smaller Cajun towns. Hardy says Zulu gets things kicked off in New Orleans this morning, which is one the oldest African American Club founded in 1909.
 
"And they're actually celebrating their 100th anniversary of their incorporation, 1916, and that's just a marvelous parade," Hardy said. 
 
Hardy says Zulu will be followed by Rex in downtown New Orleans, and at the same time the huge Argus parade begins in Metairie before the popular truck parades. He says since Fat Tuesday fell so early this season, they don’t believe folks are coming out in record numbers — but the crowds are huge:
 
"And the weather certainly brings out people. Again, we can deal with cold; rain, we can't. And thankfully rain has not been an issue this entire season," Hardy said.
 
 
 

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With Louisiana facing historic budget shortfalls, a good government group, the Public Affairs Research Council, recommends ways the state can control its spending. PAR President Robert Travis Scott says one of their suggestions is for Governor John Bel Edwards to come up with a plan to make sure retirement costs and health care plans for employees do not escalate.

"These are some of the boring things we don't like to talk about very much, but they usually cost the state a lot more year to year," Scott said.
 
PAR has published a nine page report on ways to control state spending. Scott says one suggestion is to do away with various tax credits the state gives, like the tax deduction parents receive for sending their child to a private school. 
 
"Don't know we can afford that one anymore and there are several more like that," Scott said.
 
Some of PAR's other recommendations include no merit pay increases for state employees next fiscal year, stay away from funding local pork projects and no more tax amnesty programs. Scott admits legislators have a difficult task in front of them. 
 
"The immediate problem is so serious that it's difficult to fix that and to do some really good, positive things for the long term. That's going to be one of the great challenges for the session," Scott said. 

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Michelle Southern reporting.
New Republican Louisiana Speaker of the House Taylor Barras says he was anticipating more proposed spending reforms in Governor John Bel Edwards call for the special session. 

"Our Republican group was hoping that there would be at least some items in there that would give us the opportunity to talk structural fixes," said Barras.

The session begins Sunday at 4pm, and must end at 6pm, March 9th.

Barras says their first focus will be on what needs to be done in the current year as they quickly come up with the more than $750 needed to fill the budget hole by July 1st. He says, of course, every administration tries to avoid cuts to higher ed and healthcare.

"Unfortunately when revenue is short, and those are constitutionally the only areas you can look to, that's where the pain is usually inflicted," said Barras.

Barras says he expects that when the governor presents next fiscal year's executive budget to lawmakers this weekend, it will have $2 billion dollars removed from various departments to fill the gap.

He says from that point you've got to work out ways to keep certain areas up and running, then consider what you can live without over the next 12 months.

"That extends to contracts that a lot of agencies use to third parties," said Barras. "That's included in the call as well."
 
 

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Michelle Southern reporting.
Louisiana's economy is just one out of those in seven states in the nation that did not end 2015 on a strong note, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. The index shows our economy contracting during the last three months of the year.


LSU Economist Dr. Loren Scott says the impact of the oil cuts are hitting Louisiana really hard.

"All of the major oil companies are cutting back on their capital budgets by a lot," says Scott. "Many of them are exiting the Gulf of Mexico and going into the shale plays in West Texas."
 
Scott says the big hits Louisiana incurred were in Houma and Lafayette, with employment down three and a half and two and a half percent. He says the historic low oil prices have hammered most areas all over Louisiana.
 
"Mater of fact, of the nine metropolitan areas that we have in the state, only two are growing right now and that's Baton Rouge and Lake Charles," said Scott.
 
Scott says the state as a whole began losing jobs in September of last year. He says they hope to see some upward growth in mid 2016, but that will mostly depend on Saudi Arabia.
 
"They could change this in a heartbeat by simply turning the faucet off and not plugging so much oil in the market," said Scott.
 
 
 

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For the second time in two weeks there has been a shooting along a Mardi Gras parade route in Louisiana. A week ago, there was a shooting in Thibodaux and last night shots rang out during the Bacchus Parade. Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser says this must stop.


 "Man, we've got to clean up the crime, and you know, the New Orleans police do a great job. Every time you hear about one of these guys getting picked up with a gun or shooting, you see they've been arrested two, three dozen times," Nungesser said.
 
No one was injured at last night’s shooting at the Bacchus Parade. Authorities recovered a gun but no arrests have been made. Nungesser says it’s time for the prosecutors and lawyers to stop letting career criminals back on the streets.
 
"It's all these repeat offenders that keep committing these crimes. I mean, when's the last time you heard of somebody getting arrested for armed robbery with a gun and it's their first offense," Nungesser said.
 
Nungesser says Mardi Gras celebrations bring in a huge majority of revenue and tourism for New Orleans and they have to make sure crime doesn’t effect that.
 
 
 

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A Crowley man has been arrested for allegedly stabbing two Acadia Parish Narcotic Agents. 42-year-old Jason Broussard is facing multiple charges including 2 counts of Attempted First Degree Murder. Maxine Trahan with the Acadia Parish Sheriff’s Office says the agents responded to a call after Broussard was causing a disturbance at a grocery store.

“Started searching the outer grounds of the store and located Mr. Broussard in the back of a store in a small building. The agents attempted to make an arrest, he began violently fighting with them.”

Trahan says Broussard was arrested by deputies while trying to flee the scene after stabbing the two agents. She says both officers were immediately transported to the hospital to treat their stab wounds.


“One was treated and released, the other was kept overnight because he has a stab wound really close to his lung, so they just wanted to be sure there wasn’t a puncture or anything. He was released and they’re both home recovering.”

Trahan says Broussard had outstanding warrants at the time of his arrest. He is being held in at the Acadia Parish Jail on a one million dollar bond.

“He was charged with 2 counts of attempted first degree murder, resisting, and he had a weapon on him. He was also arrested for the outstanding warrants we had on him for felon in possession of a firearm and resisting an officer.”

 
(Photo courtesy of Acadia Parish Sheriff's Office)  
 
 

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Republican Congressman Ralph Abraham has introduced legislation in an effort to stimulate agribusiness. The proposed FAME act changes the depreciation schedule for farm equipment. Abraham says it makes a simple adjustment to the tax code to shorten the depreciation schedule on farm equipment to five years rather than seven.

“A shorter schedule means that farmer can deduct the cost of equipment investments from their taxable income over a shorter period of the. That kind of puts the farmers on equal footing with the other businesses.”

Abraham says other businesses typically have a five year depreciation schedule for their durable equipment. He says this will help put money in the farmers’ pockets.


“Farmers right now with commodity prices being so low, production costs being so high, they are going to struggle this year to make any profit at all.”

Abraham says often times farm equipment breaks down and stops working before seven years. He says the FAME act already has eight other co-sponsors in the U.S. House.

“We’ve already got some that will be introducing it through their committee so to speak. It should go very quickly, I see a lot of bipartisan support. It’s just a win-win.”

 
 
 

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The burn chamber created to burn 16 million pounds of M6 propellant at Camp Minden begins its trek today on highways through four northwest Louisiana parishes. The Department of Transportation is advising drivers to prepare for delays. DOTD Spokesperson Cindy Dorfner says because of its size, the chamber can only go 15 miles per hour.

“This thing is massive, it’s about 180 feet long, about 25 feet tall, 27 maybe and then 25 feet wide. It’s just humongous.”

Dorfner says the chamber will be transported on a truck through Natchitoches, Red River, Bossier until it finally reaches Camp Minden in Webster Parish on Thursday. She says traffic will be especially bad when the chamber reaches south Bossier on Wednesday because it will close down an intersection.

“There’s going to be some law enforcement out there to help traffic navigate around it when it’s possible. There are going to be some times when it’s not possible.”

Dorfner says motorists can check the chamber’s exact route and approximate time on DOTD’s website. She says multiple electric companies will be out to ease power outages and they ask for people not to cluster around to watch the massive load pass.

“Not only is there really nothing to see and they’re not throwing Mardi Gras beads from it so there is nothing to catch from the burn chamber but it really is just going to add to the traffic.”

 
 
 

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