Louisiana editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:
The Town Talk on gun violence being researched as a public health issue:
America is stuck at a crossroads in its long, contentious relationship with firearms.
We have reached the point where we can continue down the same path of how guns are viewed and regulated at the national and at state levels — a path that includes occasional and incomprehensible mass shootings — or take another direction toward change.
The problem is we’re not sure what changes to make. As much as we talk about gun violence in this country, we don’t have enough information on how to prevent it.
Yes, we need to talk about it more. And yes, this is the time to talk about it.
The gun debate has roared back into the national consciousness in the wake of 17 murders at a high school in Parkland, Florida, by one deeply troubled young man. Teenagers who witnessed the tragedy are leading the call for immediate action to strengthen gun control.
At the same time, legislative efforts are underway in many states to loosen restrictions on carrying concealed weapons. There are renewed calls to stop designating schools as “gun-free zones.”
Before any of this happens, comprehensive scientific research into how to prevent injuries and death from guns must be conducted. Real studies are needed into the effectiveness of measures intended to reduce violence, such as waiting periods for gun purchases, mandatory weapon registration and allowing concealed carry without permits.
Such evidence and data are lacking. In 1996, Congress passed the so-called Dickey amendment that effectively shut down research into gun violence by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, the Dickey amendment does not ban research on gun violence: It bans lobbying by the CDC and in turn other federal agencies for gun-control legislation. It was followed up by deep budget cuts in funding for research, no doubt fueled by concerns about what such research might find.
That needs to change at the national level. We can’t solve a problem if we don’t know its causes and study possible solutions.
There is a lot to study and talk about, including what roles mental health, the pervasiveness of violence in mass entertainment and the availability of guns and ammunition play into the frequency of mass shootings.
Gun violence needs to be treated like a public health issue. Horrific mass shootings are not the only symptom of this nexus of firearms and mental health crises such as suicide attempts and societal issues including domestic violence.
At the state level, we would support the establishment of a task force made up of experts in a variety of fields to look these issues and make recommendations to the Legislature and governor on how to reduce gun violence in Louisiana.
The usual arguments from opposite sides of the gun debate sound empty after so many years of back-and-forth bickering.
Adding more guns to the mix — the idea that armed “good guys” can protect us from “bad guys” — falls apart when one envisions police arriving at the scene of a shootout and having to sort out who among the gun-bearers is “good” and who is “bad.”
Banning a particular weapon or a specific type of weapon — assault rifles, for example — immediately gets sticky over the definition of such weapons. At this point, with an estimated 300 million guns in the United States, it’s too late to make a difference in the number of firearms that are readily available to people in crisis by banning one type of gun.
Big problems require big discussions. It’s time to stop fighting and get talking. From there, we can find direction and take meaningful action.
The Advocate on the state budget and oil revenue:
As yet another special session of the Legislature is amply demonstrating, Louisiana’s withdrawal from its addiction to oil and gas revenues continues to shape the state budget quagmire.
In fiscal year 1982, just over 42 percent of the state general fund was from oil and gas revenues. Mineral revenues alone counted for almost half the budget.
Now, mineral revenues are projected at one-tenth, or maybe a little more than that, in the budget that is before the Legislature today.
In the old days, state government seemed primarily an open faucet flowing out oil money. The largesse from Baton Rouge funded charity hospitals, local as well as state roads and buildings, grants to local governments, and ultra-cheap tuition at our numerous colleges, among other benefits.
Over the course of a generation or so, Louisiana’s oil and gas bonanza has had significant ups and downs, with catastrophic impacts on the state economy.
Subsequent boomlets also came along with hurricane recovery revenues, as with the post-Katrina period when thousands of people were buying cars, houses, and refrigerators, along with supplies for rebuilding homes and businesses.
Louisiana has spent freely in good times, like a fiscal junkie indulging a fix.
In harder times, the state has reluctantly had to raise various taxes on businesses and individuals, although not with any great consistency or long-term financial commitment. Louisiana typically ranks in the bottom 10 in terms of state and local tax burden among the states. In a normal state, we’d worry about paying the bills, too, but we wouldn’t be worrying about paying the salaries of local cops or other burdens taken on by state government. Cities and parishes have been used to not paying for their own needs, and now there’s not enough money in the bank.
Today’s crisis in the State Capitol involves disputes over the non-mineral revenues that are nine out of 10 of the dollars in the general fund. But the numerous grants of state revenues to locals have never gone away, nor have most of the tax breaks to businesses and individuals, and despite a game plan for rationalizing the state tax system, lawmakers refuse to do any heavy lifting.
Those who don’t want to pay the bills are not fiscal conservatives. They’re in denial, waiting for an oil boom to save them from their own poor judgment.
The Courier on funding public education:
For far too long, Louisiana has treated its support of education at every level as a cost.
But rather than being a cost, education represents an investment.
It is an investment in our students. It is an investment in future productivity and development. And, most importantly, it is an investment in our students - the people who will one day take the reins of our state.
Unfortunately, they will do so here after receiving only the bare minimum of services, equipment and facilities.
Our public education system and languished in neglect for generations. There have been some improvements in recent years, but those are exceptions to the rule.
The picture gets even gloomier when observers consider our higher education. Repeated cuts to spending and services have made Louisiana’s students pay increasingly burdensome tuitions and fees while receiving less and less in exchange.
We have made it more expensive and less attractive to remain in or come to Louisiana to attend our colleges and universities.
We as a state have sent exactly the wrong message and laid the groundwork for a future that will take years or even decades to right the wrongs we have done.
Now, as our state leaders contemplate a budget that must remove $1 billion in spending or replace $1 billion in taxes, we simply cannot afford to once again victimize our education system.
The past cuts should have been important wake-up calls that demanded action from our public officials.
Instead, they have continued to treat education as a luxury or an expense rather than the crucial investment it actually is.
There is little reason to think that our lawmakers and governor will do so in the immediate future, but our ongoing fiscal challenges should remind them that our state Constitution is in dire need of change.
Our government must be able to adjust to increases or decreases in revenue without eroding our education system or hospitals. Unfortunately, that is exactly where statewide cuts disproportionately occur.
It’s not because our decision-makers are callous or cruel. It is because the decision-making has been taken out of their hands by constitutional protections on so many other areas of the state budget.
Our Legislature is meeting in a special session that will have to solve the latest fiscal crisis. Before yet another special session is needed, we must insist that the Legislature and governor take a broader, longer view of the root cause of this destructive path we have taken.