Louisiana News Briefs

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

Interim leader in legislative auditor’s office says he’s not interested in permanent position

When Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera steps down March 2, his first assistant will step in until lawmakers choose a permanent successor, an oversight committee made official Thursday.

Thomas Cole said he does not plan to apply for the permanent position. He recommends legislators seek someone who will stay in the job at least five years. After 40-plus years with the office, he’s not prepared to make that commitment, Cole said. Senate President Page Cortez agreed the position should be filled by someone “with a number of years to give.”

The commission tasked with finding Purpera’s successor is supposed to make recommendations to the full Legislature before the legislative session begins April 12. Lawmakers will vote on a replacement.

Tax deadline pushed back for Louisiana’s Hurricane Zeta victims

Louisiana residents affected by Hurricane Zeta now have until March 1 to file various individual and business tax returns and make tax payments, the Internal Revenue Service announced Wednesday.

The new deadline applies to the fourth quarter estimated tax payment that had been due Jan. 15 and the quarterly payroll and excise tax returns normally due Nov. 2 and Feb. 1. It also applies to tax-exempt organizations that had a valid extension due to expire Nov. 16. Penalties on deposits due on or after Oct. 26 and before Nov. 10 will be abated as long as the tax deposits were made by Nov. 10, the IRS said.

Individuals and households affected by Hurricane Zetathat reside or have a business in Acadia, Allen, Ascension, Assumption, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Evangeline, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson, Jefferson Davis, Lafayette, Lafourche, Livingston, Orleans, Plaquemines, Pointe Coupee, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. Helena, St. James, St. John the Baptist, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Terrebonne, Vermilion, Washington, West Baton Rouge, and West Feliciana parishes qualify. Taxpayers in localities added later to the disaster area automatically will receive the same filing and payment relief. 

“This tax relief is part of our effort to help families and businesses return to wholeness after Zeta and a devastating 2020 hurricane season,” U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy said.

Report: Louisiana ranks second for slashing higher education funding, first for tuition increases

Louisiana lawmakers cut state spending for colleges and universities by almost 38% in inflation-adjusted dollars from 2008 to 2019, the second-most among states and behind Arizona, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Average tuition for four-year schools in Louisiana almost doubled, posting easily the biggest percentage increase in the nation. Community college tuition rose 82.5%, second to California.

Funding fell by $3.4 billion nationally, or about $1,033 (11.6%) per student, the left-leaning think tank reported. Tuition at four-year public colleges rose an average of 35.2% and by 37.5% at community colleges.

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Louisiana’s colleges and universities endured more than a decade of budget cuts that pushed the cost of education to students and families,” said the Louisiana Budget Project, which focuses on how government policies affect low- and middle-income residents. “Louisiana’s failure to invest in higher education harms students of color and those with low incomes the most, as they are less likely to receive TOPS scholarships.”

Ag commissioner urges producers to document winter losses

Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Mike Strain is urging agricultural producers affected by the severe winter weather to document losses.

“While no secretarial disaster designation has been declared at this time, an accurate account of any crops and livestock that are lost is vital in the event insurance claims are necessary or federal assistance through the U.S. Department of Agriculture is made available,” Strain said.

Documentation includes photos and videos of losses, purchase records, production records, vaccination records, bank or other loan documents and third-party certification.

The Farm Service Agency has a variety of loans available, including emergency loans that are triggered by disaster declarations and operating loans that can assist producers, Strain said. Producers who signed up for Federal Crop Insurance or the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program and suffer losses are asked to report crop damage to their crop insurance agent or local FSA office within 72 hours of damage discovery and follow up in writing within 15 days.