News Briefs

How to reduce the state payroll, National Geographic on Katrina and more


The state has approximately $150 million earmarked in its annual spending plan for seven separate hurricane evacuations. Some believe that number is on the high end and that Louisiana will not have to cover the cost of seven different evacuations. If that's the case, there's the potential for a pot of available money in the budget.

Dan Juneau, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, a prominent interest on the state level, wonders what might happen to those funds. "It will be interesting to see exactly how that large appropriation will be spent during the next budget year, and what constitutes 'emergencies' that are addressed with the money," Juneau says. If it goes unspent, then homeowners might have another beef. During the spring session, some lawmakers wanted to use the cash to offset homeowner policy increases, but the move was rejected. ' Jeremy Alford


Louisiana will begin offering its state workers an early retirement option next year in hopes that payroll costs, and the annual budget, will deflate accordingly. Gov. Kathleen Blanco signed the legislation last week, prompted largely by last fall's hurricanes. Hordes of state workers either lost the buildings where they once worked or lost everything else. Additionally, many are moving out of the state or are suffering from various ailments, says Democratic Chackbay Rep. Warren Triche, who sponsored the act.

The program will offer early retirement to members of the Louisiana State Employees' Retirement System who are at least 50 years old with 10 years of service. If a state employee decides to take advantage of the program, he or she will receive a retirement benefit equal to as much as 2 percent of their average compensation multiplied by the number of years of creditable service. Only one of every three positions left vacant by the program will be refilled, Triche says, unless the commissioner of administration and the head of the Department of State Civil Service decide to retain the post. The program would run from Jan. 1, 2007, through Dec. 31, 2008. Anticipated savings equal roughly $4 million. ' JA


A recent survey by the National Wildlife Federation shows that hunters and fishermen are keenly aware of global warming. Based on the responses of licensed anglers, 76 percent agree that global warming is occurring, and the same percentage has observed changes in climate conditions where they live ' such as warmer and shorter winters, hotter summers, earlier spring and less snow.

Nationwide, approximately one out of every five voters is a sportsman, according to the NWF. In 2004, they voted 2-to-1 for President George Bush over Sen. John Kerry. They also identify themselves overwhelmingly as moderate to conservative in their political beliefs. "We are reaching a tipping point in this country where the vital sportsmen's constituency is adding its voice to those who recognize global warming is occurring, that it poses serious threats and that action must be taken to address it," says Larry Schweiger, president of the NWF. ' JA


Even though the Legislature recently balked at certain efforts to improve emergency communications during hurricane conditions, Congress is poised to vote on an amendment that would expedite funding for first responders. Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter inserted an amendment into the Communications, Consumers' Choice and Broadband Deployment Act that would release $1 billion for interoperability funding in September, rather than over the next four years as originally proposed.

"We haven't made much progress on interoperability since September 11, 2001, which was made clear again during Hurricane Katrina and Rita, when we had a complete breakdown in communications in the hardest hit areas," Vitter says. The bill is expected to move to the full U.S. Senate for a vote later this year. ' JA


If you missed The National Geographic Channel's June 24 debut of its Katrina documentary Drowning New Orleans, set your Tivo or VCR for its next showing at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12. The hour-long film is a keeper worth saving for years to come, as it offers the clearest science-based analysis of post-Katrina flooding in New Orleans. Using computer-generated maps, interviews with first responders on the scene and chilling, previously unseen footage of the 17th Street Canal levee breach, Drowning New Orleans offers the most compelling video footage to date of the disaster ' and reaffirms that the Army Corps of Engineers' faulty levee-wall construction and the MR-GO canal deserves most of the blame for the tragedy. ' Scott Jordan**