Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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Feb. 9

NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune on preschool being vital to kids and Louisiana's economy:

Educators and other advocates for Louisiana children have pushed the Legislature for years to increase funding for preschool.

A coalition of more than 20 groups called Ready Louisiana — which includes the Committee of 100 for Economic Development, League of Women Voters, Louisiana Budget Project, Stand for Children and other civic groups — wants the state to invest $208 million in early childhood education by 2020.

The case is compelling: Ninety percent of a child's brain development occurs between birth and age 4, and quality Pre-K programs are an important piece of that development. But many children in Louisiana don't have access to good child care or preschool.

That ought to be reason enough for the Legislature, but lawmakers have yet to provide the money needed to fully implement a comprehensive preschool act passed in 2012.

A 2017 report by the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, LSU, Loyola University and Entergy looked at the Pre-K issue from another angle. The study, titled "Losing Ground," found that the ability of parents with young children to work is directly affected by the availability of child care and preschool.

The report results are stark: 14 percent of parents turned down a promotion because of child care issues; 18.5 percent went from full-time to part-time work; 16 percent had to quit their job, and more than 40 percent had to miss work or leave early during a 90-day period.

The Council for a Better Louisiana pointed out the broader implications in a January post on its website: "As important as early education is in the cognitive development of children and their preparation for school, it is also becoming a workforce development issue of growing importance to businesses."

The childcare report estimated the Louisiana economy loses more than $1 billion a year because of lost wages and productivity connected to child care.

The Legislature passed a comprehensive preschool act in 2012, acknowledging the connection between early education and a child's later academic success. But lawmakers have yet to provide money for all the provisions.

State funding for pre-kindergarten classes was cut for the current budget year, and lawmakers added no money to a child care assistance program for low-income parents who are working or attending school. The "Losing Ground" report noted that the Legislature has decreased funding for early childhood education for eight years in a row.

"What we have documented in this report with LSU, Loyola and Entergy's help is how critical these programs are to our employers and employees. Six out of every 10 mothers with an infant will return to work in the first year of the child's life," Louisiana Policy Institute for Children director Melanie Bronfin said when the report was released. "Yet the lack of stable, accessible programs in our state greatly impacts their productivity as well as their employer's."

Now we're heading quickly toward the next legislative session. Legislators and Gov. John Bel Edwards are at an impasse over how to deal with a $1 billion deficit looming over the next budget. Those decisions will affect how much money is available for vital state services.

As legislators weigh how to replace revenue from temporary taxes set to expire at the end of June and how much money the state needs to spend, they should make Pre-K a priority.

They claimed in 2012 to understand the importance of giving children a strong start. Now they need to put the money up to make that happen.

Online: http://www.nola.com

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Feb. 12

The Courier of Houma on why a public spending website would be a worthwhile tool:

The question isn't why the state should implement a website aimed at sharing information about what our public servants do with our tax money.

The question is why it shouldn't.

And we might also ask why we don't have such a system already.

As our state officials continue to haggle with one another over the shape our next budget will take, there are some excellent ideas being floated.

One, put forth by some Republican members of the Legislature, is to establish the Louisiana Checkbook. The computer system, modeled after a similar one that is up and running in Ohio.

The general idea is as simple as it is noble: Create one place where anyone can go online and find out exactly how their tax money is being spent.

Sure, the politicians on either side of the debate can haggle over exactly how the website will look, how much it will cost and what the timeframe is for getting it going.

But the overriding public concern here is increased scrutiny over public spending. It is difficult to imagine a reason anyone wouldn't want such a system.

And the significance of it stretches beyond the idea of informing the public. The thought that everyone is keeping an eye on spending will be a powerful motivator.

"It's amazing what you do when somebody's watching you, said state Treasurer John Schroder, one of the effort's proponents. "Transparency leads to accountability."

We should want everyone to have as much information as is feasible and affordable to share. And this would give state residents a great way to stay informed and keep a watchful eye over a government that needs to be watched.

Some have pointed out that the information system could be expensive to install and might require other technological upgrades so the various departments of state government are using compatible software. While that is a valid concern, the public benefits of a transparent government far outweigh any reasonable expense in establishing it.

Ohio was able to get its website operational in about two years at a cost of just over $800,000. In the scheme of a state budget that stretches into the tens of billions of dollars, that sort of expense is more than reasonable. Even if other upgrades increase the cost, it is a tool that should return more than its expense in the form of oversight and knowledge.

Let's get this excellent idea moving forward.

Online: http://www.houmatoday.com/

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Feb. 13

Lake Charles American Press on state legislators gathering for a special session to figure out how to avoid going over the fiscal cliff:

Starting on Monday, state legislators will once again gather for a special session to figure out how to avoid going over the "fiscal cliff," valued at $994 million.

This isn't new territory for state lawmakers. It's the fifth special session in two years where the budget is the main priority.

What remains unclear, however, is whether legislators can reach some sort of agreement on how to fix the problem before special session ends March 7.

The problem centers around temporary taxes that end July 1. A special session is needed since lawmakers can't consider most measures that raise revenue during the regular session that starts March 12.

There is plenty of uncertainty, but some officials are optimistic. After meeting with leadership in the Senate and House last week, Gov. John Bel Edwards released a statement saying a compromise can be reached.

State lawmakers in 2016 approved raising the sales tax temporarily from 4 percent to 5 percent. The increases were seen as a way to give lawmakers enough time to come up with a permanent fix, but that hasn't happened.

Edwards has said he doesn't support the state sales tax being permanently above 4 percent. Some House Republicans are eyeing the sales tax rate being above 4 percent, but below 5 percent.

Of the 17 items Edwards listed as needing to get done during the special session, two look like they won't see approval in the House, which is dominated by Republicans. One calls for changing state income tax brackets, while the other would apply sales taxes to some services.

However, House Speaker Taylor Barras told the Advocate that the remaining items, like taxing some business utilities, "are still up for discussion." Also, Edwards' list has four items House Republicans want, one calling for increased budget transparency online.

Special sessions aren't cheap, costing the state roughly $60,000 per day. Lawmakers owe it to the constituents who elected them to make good use of their time and get something approved before time runs out.

We'll see how things play out over the 17-day special session.

Online: http://www.theadvocate.com/