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Bobby Jindal names nine members to new St. Tammany levee district board PDF Print E-mail
Monday, October 27 2014 - 3:45 pm

Gov. Bobby Jindal has appointed nine members to serve on the newly created St. Tammany Levee, Drainage and Conservation District board, according to a news release from the governor's office. The group includes several members with engineering and legal backgrounds.

The levee district was established by the Legislature this year as a separate taxing authority, allowing St. Tammany to withdraw from the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East. Parish officials have said the move to create the new levee authority will allow St. Tammany to decide what flood protection projects need to be built to guard against flooding.

The district encompasses the parish's coastal zone, which is generally the area south of Interstates 12 and 10. It is authorized to issue bonds and levy taxes. A sales tax of up to 1 cent could be levied if approved by voters, according to the bill establishing the agency, which was offered by state Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Covington, and approved 89-0 in the House in May. The Senate approved by bill in April by a 37-0 vote.

Jindal appointed board members based on nominations from the St. Tammany Parish government, the parish's legislative delegation and the mayors of Slidell, Mandeville and Madisonville.

The members are:

  • Henry DiFranco, of Mandeville, owner and president of Principle Engineering, Inc. in Mandeville. DiFranco is also serving in the U.S. Air Force Reserve in the Air Force Civil Engineer Center. He was nominated by Mandeville Mayor Donald Villere.
  • John Faust, of Slidell, who is retired from the New Orleans Police Department where he served for 20 years as the Municipal Preparedness and Emergency Response Planner. He was nominated by the legislative delegation.
  • Kort Hutchison Sr., of Lacombe, a licensed general contractor with over 40 years of experience in community development and industrial, commercial, and residential construction. He was nominated by the legislative delegation.
  • Shelby LaSalle Jr., of Mandeville, a Senior Managing Partner of New Orleans Equity Partners who previously served as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Krebs, LaSalle, LeMieux Consultants, Inc. LaSalle was nominated by the legislative delegation.
  • Daniel McGovern IV, of Slidell, an attorney with a private practice serving the Slidell and New Orleans areas. The Slidell Mayor Freddy Drennan nominated him.
  • Kelly McHugh, of Madisonville, president of Kelly McHugh and Associates, a civil engineering and land surveying firm. McHugh was nominated by the legislative delegation.
  • Stephen Phillippi, of Madisonville, a retired U.S. Air Force Civil Engineer and currently is regional president of the engineering firm Krebs, LaSalle, LeMieux Consultants, Inc. in Mandeville. Madisonville Mayor Peter Gitz.
  • Louis Sandoz III, of Slidell, a senior member of the Entergy Corporation IT staff who is certified as a project management professional and as a general contractor. Sandoz was nominated by St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister.
  • Rykert Toledano Jr., of Covington, a senior partner in the law firm Toledano & Herrin, LLC in Covington, and a member and manager of the J.B. Levert Land Company. Brister nominated Toledano.


Another View: Donahue on target with TOPS pitch PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, June 03 2014 - 11:53 am



Procrastination is a human trait, and it is perhaps most pronounced in the herd of humans in the Louisiana Legislature.

The issue is the popular TOPS scholarships, and the struggle with making it somewhat less generous so that it is affordable in the future.

In concept, something like the bill to increase TOPS requirements will pass one day, simply because TOPS is a large and unaffordable drain on the state’s general fund. But human nature being what it is, and politics being what it is, the herd has simply not worked up the courage to cut costs.

Leaders in both House and Senate are aware of the problem, and bills by House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, and Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville — the latter head of the Finance Committee — have filed some reasonable solutions.

I think we will allow students to have a higher goal to shoot for,” Donahue argued. “Quite a few of them would raise their standards.”

But even given the influence of Donahue in the Senate — indeed, he is a respected member — his bill to raise TOPS requirements modestly was defeated 23-16. Now, that’s a pretty solid vote but it’s not a monolithic majority.

The debate surely presages some changes in future. “The challenge is, how do you put a handle on this?” asked Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell. In fact, there are a number of ways to cut costs and still provide the benefits of what is now known as the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students.

We liked Donahue’s proposal to raise the academic requirements modestly so that TOPS is really a scholarship, and we suspect that the state will have to go in that direction.

How do you put a handle on this? By taking even a glance at the numbers.

TOPS will cost the state an estimated $250 million next year and $387 million by the 2018-19 school year, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office. That’s up from about $40 million in the late 1990s.

A report from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office last year showed that 44 percent of students lost their TOPS awards between 2002 and 2008, and more than half of those lost the scholarship during the first year of college.

We commend Donahue and others for pushing reforms in the program, and we hope to see its benefits continued, but on a more financially sustainable basis.

Procrastination can’t last forever on a price tag that is going higher every year.


Legislature must alter Tulane scholarship program PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, May 21 2014 - 11:49 am

By: Houma Today

The Louisiana Legislature has a deal with Tulane University in New Orleans that dates back more than a century.

It has never served a true public purpose. Instead, it has served the narrow political interests of the lawmakers themselves.

The stated purpose of the scholarship program, which allows each legislator to award one full scholarship to Tulane each year, is to make sure students from throughout Louisiana get the chance to attend the prestigious university.

That purpose could much more easily be served if the university or some third party were in charge of publicizing the program and selecting deserving students to participate.

By allowing the process to be overseen by the legislators themselves, the program has rewarded them with a valuable prize that all too often has been bestowed on political supporters or other well-connected families.

Under Senate Bill 1, the program will undergo some modest changes that could result in more applicants.

However, it leaves the program in the hands of the legislators who will still be free to reward their allies with scholarships worth tens of thousands of dollars a year.

It is difficult to see the public purpose in allowing legislators control over this valuable program.

Instead, the university — which is in the best position to decide which students need and deserve financial assistance — should do it.

Unfortunately, the lawmakers don't want to part with what has become a valuable political perk.

Some lawmakers, though, have set a great example, the kind of thing that should be a model for how the program is to work if it is retained at all.

Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, has agreed to use Tulane's own Open Competition program to pick the recipient of his scholarship.

That is a welcome change.

Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, is using the Northshore Community Foundation to select his scholarship recipient.

There are plenty of resources out there for any lawmaker who has in mind the well-being of a deserving student rather than his or her own political reward.

The object of the scholarship program is to make it easier for students throughout the state to attend Tulane. With that in mind, there are many more effective ways than the current system. While there is no wholesale change on the horizon, the lawmakers can take it upon themselves to implement what is best for the students.

Let's hope more of them do.


Capitol Views: Bill to reduce EBR school board membership gets second life PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, May 08 2014 - 12:59 pm

By: Business Report



Less than 24 hours after the House rejected legislation to reduce the size of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, the Senate Education Committee approved its upper chamber counterpart today and gave the policy idea a second life. Yet even if the full Senate provides the same favor to SB 672 by Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, it still has to survive the House, which fell four votes shy Wednesday of passing HB 1178 by Rep. Dalton Honoré, D-Baton Rouge. White's proposal—which is supported by BRAC—would reduce the size of the board from 11 members to nine. In a move that could help the bill navigate through the rest of the session, White added an amendment that would make the resulting state law null and void if the school board adopts its own policy to lessen its membership by nine or fewer by Aug. 1. White said the school board is currently working on such a plan, adding: "They're still trying to figure out if it should be nine or seven, I think." He said the drop is justified because the student population is declining in the parish and communities have formed their own school systems over the years outside of the East Baton Rouge framework. The bill picked up only two nay votes following the committee's hearing and was opposed by Louisiana's statewide teachers' unions.

—The Senate Education Committee also passed today SB 343 by Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, a constitutional amendment that would allow university management boards to set their own tuition and fees. If the bill can garner a two-thirds vote from both chambers and be accepted by voters on the November ballot, lawmakers would never again have to vote on a tuition increase bill. That would track how most all other states handle the issue. "The Legislature would be removed from the process," Donahue said. Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana, said the change would give universities more flexibility in dealing with funding cuts from the state, which have become the norm. "I really don't think you're going to see institutions going way out of line in terms of market rates with tuition with this," Erwin said. With three opposing votes, the proposed constitutional amendment now moves to the full Senate.

(John Maginnis and Jeremy Alford will publish Capitol Views each afternoon on Daily Report PMthrough the end of the legislative session. The report is also available to subscribers Registration is available on the homepage.)

Louisiana Public Broadcasting is providing a daily video update featuring highlights of the session, which you can see beginning at 6 p.m. here.







State House approves bill to create St. Tammany Levee, Drainage and Conservation District PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, May 08 2014 - 12:16 pm

By Robert Rhoden, | The Times-Picayune

A bill establishing St. Tammany Parish as a separate levee district taxing authority is awaiting Gov. Bobby Jindal's signature after receiving unanimous approval in the House of Representatives. Senate Bill 342 by state Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Covington, was approved 89-0 in the House on Wednesday (May 14).

The bill calls for the creation of the St. Tammany Levee, Drainage and Conservation District, allowing the parish to withdraw from the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East. A St. Tammany Levee District exists on paper, but it has never been activated or funded.

The measure was signed by Senate President John Alario on Thursday. The Senate had given it the green light last month by a 37-0 vote.

Parish President Pat Brister said state Rep. Greg Cromer handled the bill in House, where is was approved without discussion. "It did not take 15 seconds. The fact that we really explained what we wanted to do and why we wanted to do it, everybody understood," she said.

When the measure becomes law, the parish government will begin the process of advertising for candidates to serve on the agency's board, which will come up with projects to protect the coastal areas of the parish, Brister said. People with expertise in such things as engineering, construction and drainage will be sought.

"It's going to take some time and take lots of research into the history of where we flooded and why," she said. "We will have people with expertise on that committee to do that."

Then it will be up to the citizens to decide whether they want to approve a tax to fund flood protection projects, Brister said.

"We have watched while the south shore got the protection they need and deserve. It's now time that we looked at ourselves and look at what we can do to protect our citizens.'

Brister has said the parish will benefit from having its own levee district to decide what projects need to be undertaken to protect the parish from flooding. While billions of dollars have been spent on levee and drainage projects by the federal government in the New Orleans area since 2005, none of the money was spent on project on the north shore, she said.

Brister has acknowledged that the parish has not contributed money to the Southeast Louisiana Flood authority and the regional flood control efforts.

The new levee district would apply to the parish's coastal zone, basically south of Interstates 12 and 10, and would have authority to issue bonds and levy taxes, the bill says. A sales tax of up to 1 cent could be levied if approved by voters.

The tax would not be subject to the combined rate limitation established in the state Constitution.

The district would be governed by a nine-member commission appointed by the governor. At least four of the members must live in the unincorporated area of St. Tammany, Donahue has said.



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