Louisiana editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:
The Advocate on preserving Louisiana’s coastline:
While the State Capitol might be tied up in partisan politics, we hope that Louisiana can continue if not improve upon its bipartisan and widespread commitment to preserving the state’s coastline.
“A generation from now, the coast will be very different,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said last week. “The worst-case scenario from a few years ago is now the best-case scenario.”
Louisiana and the federal government “do not have a single day to waste,” he said.
The governor and New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell were among the political leaders blessing the scientific and technical discussions at the biannual State of the Coast conference in New Orleans. The conference, which began in 2010, is the largest gathering of engineers, scientists, policy makers and environmentalists of its kind.
“New Orleans was created because of the coast,” she said. “We have to live with water.”
Like Edwards, Cantrell implored conference attendees to act before it’s too late. “Our future depends on it,” she said.
The important takeaway from the leaders’ comments is that Louisiana can be united, within limits, around a preservation agenda for the coast. For one thing, even with the giant engineering and construction costs associated with projects like sediment diversions from the Mississippi River, billions in funding is available from both the Deepwater Horizon spill settlement and oil and gas revenue shared with the U.S. government from the Gulf of Mexico.
The latter is a particular victory for Louisiana’s largely Republican delegation in Congress. The revenue sharing was pushed strongly by then-U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-New Orleans, and has been protected since by the GOP-led delegation on Capitol Hill from raids in both the Obama and Trump administrations.
The state’s efforts have also been supported by the Legislature and Louisiana voters, who have pledged in various ways to dedicate federal revenues from these sources to coastal protection and preservation efforts.
That bipartisan commitment is vital because of the long-range nature of the challenge. It is not only a matter of a few big projects being completed but a consistent effort to alleviate the impacts of rising sea levels associated with climate change, and subsidence in Louisiana’s alluvial soils. The coast isn’t going to become what it was even a couple of generations ago, but Louisiana’s future can be protected with a persistent and science-based commitment over coming decades.
“I believe this is Louisiana’s moment,” the governor said.
Yes, but one day we shall also have to have a great deal more help from the U.S. government to achieve such a giant task. We hope that the nation at large will recognize the national importance of the environmental degradation of the coast.
NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune on the state Legislature’s recent session:
The Louisiana Legislature is setting a new bar for failure.
The second special session since January ended Monday night without agreement on taxes to fund the state budget as House members shouted at each other.
With midnight approaching, Shreveport Republican Rep. Alan Seabaugh admitted that he was intentionally running out the clock to prevent a second vote on New Orleans Democrat Rep. Walt Leger’s tax proposal.
“It’s on you! It’s on you!” Rep. Julie Stokes, a Kenner Republican, said as she pointed at Rep. Seabaugh. On him, yes. But on others in the House as well.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a press conference after the session ended: “It was a total collapse of leadership.”
In the House, at least. House Speaker Taylor Barras, Republican Caucus chairman Lance Harris and Appropriations chairman Cameron Henry don’t seem interested in compromise. And they are apparently willing to torpedo the budget over a small fraction of a penny.
Senators approved a 4.5 percent sales tax to replace the temporary 5 percent tax that will expire June 30. Their plan would reduce the budget and the tax burden on Louisianians. That would usually be seen as a win-win for politicians.
But the House leadership is set on a 4.3 percent sales tax, even though it clearly can’t pass. Both the most conservative and the most liberal House members voted against it for different reasons.
Rep. Harris, of Alexandria, could only get 38 “yes” votes Monday on his tax bill. He needed at least 70. Rep. Leger’s alternative bill with a 4.5 percent sales tax got 64 votes, just six short of what was needed. Then Rep. Harris and the speaker, with an assist from Rep. Seabaugh, quashed a bipartisan attempt to bring Rep. Leger’s legislation up for another vote.
That left the budget $500 million short of revenues, with steep cuts to TOPS scholarships, colleges and universities, sheriffs, district attorneys, the prison system and child welfare services.
And it left all of us to pay for a third special session this year — at a cost of roughly $60,000 a day.
Louisianians deserve better than the petty, self-centered political wrangling on display in Baton Rouge. TOPS students shouldn’t have to worry about whether they’ll be able to afford school and whether their professors will get paid. Vulnerable children shouldn’t be put at greater risk, nor should the safety of communities.
The sales tax isn’t the fairest or best way to pay for state government, but at this point, it is the only option for raising the money that’s needed. The difference between 4.3 percent and 4.5 percent amounts to less than 20 cents on $100.
The Senate found a way to lower the sales tax and reduce the budget without throwing it into chaos. A large majority of the House wants to do the same — but their leaders are playing politics, hoping to hurt Gov. Edwards’ chances at re-election.
And they clearly don’t care if they hurt scores of Louisiana residents in the process.
Ruston Daily Leader says the Louisiana Legislature’s special session proved fruitless:
Like the rest of Louisiana, we saw it coming. Another special session at taxpayers’ expense went all for naught late Monday night as state legislators took things to the final minutes before ending their second special session this year without agreement and passing a budget that would force deep cuts across state government next month.
Yes, our state lawmakers again played a game of kick of the can.
And now those Louisiana legislators face a third special session of 2018, likely to start next week. Gov. John Bel Edwards is required to give seven days notice before another special session can begin.
Edwards said he’ll call another special session to try to avoid deep cuts to the TOPS tuition program, higher education, the child-welfare agency and public safety programs.
Special sessions cost state taxpayers around $60,000 a day. The next one will be the seventh since Edwards took office in January 2016, saddled with around a $2 billion budget gap.
In 2016, the Legislature agreed to a temporary one-cent state sales tax increase from 4 percent to 5 percent to help address that initial shortfall.
But that tax increase is set to expire on June 30 with the state still teetering on the edge of the fiscal cliff.
At a press conference held right after lawmakers adjourned, Edwards said he hadn’t decided yet whether or not he will veto the budget approved late Monday. He said he would have to take a closer look at where the cuts fall before making a decision.
But vetoed or not, the budget passed Monday simply won’t work and was only another game of kick the can so that legislators “can play again another day” in their third special session of the year.
The budget passed late Monday funds 70 percent of the TOPS program and makes drastic cuts to public universities and colleges. Edwards said district attorneys, sheriffs, the prison system and children welfare services could also see heavy reductions that might make it hard for them to continue functioning.
The Daily Leader remains hopeful that in their seventh special session since Edwards took office, state legislators will finally learn the art of compromise and stop kicking the can before it finally plunges off that disastrous financial cliff.