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Louisiana editorial roundup

March 6, 2019

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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March 1

American Press on the costs of attending community college:

Community colleges are an affordable resource plenty of people use to get the education needed to land a quality job.

However, the average cost of going to one of these colleges in Louisiana is higher than other states in the Southern region and nationwide.

According to the Southern Regional Education Board, more than 21 percent of Louisiana families’ income is spent on attending two-year colleges. The regional average is 17 percent, while the national average is 18.2 percent.

The amount is a far cry from the 17 percent of the income Louisiana students spent on community colleges during 2010-11.

Community colleges should be a cost-effective way to get a degree and secure a good job. But there’s a problem if aspiring students in Louisiana aren’t able to cover the higher cost.

The numbers also show how tuition makes up more of the revenue for community colleges. The most recent data from 2015-16 shows it at 64 percent of the schools’ revenue, up from 37 percent 10 years ago.

Technical schools in Louisiana have the same issue. It’s just over 20 percent in the state, 18.6 percent in the region and 18.2 percent in the U.S.

Monty Sullivan, Louisiana Community and Technical College System, told The Advocate that the board has “been sensitive to this issue” of cost. Tuition hasn’t been raised in four years, while fees have remained the same for three years.

The report also showed that Louisiana spends hundreds of dollars less for need-based assistance, compared to the Southern region and nationwide. Meanwhile it spends an average of thousands more on aid granted through merit, including TOPS.

Kim Hunter Reed, commissioner of higher education, offered some suggestions to make two-year colleges more affordable, such as giving more people access to need-based aid.

The education board’s report highlights an issue that our state needs to address. If we want more people to have credentials within the next decade, we must make sure they can access these schools without digging deeper into their pockets.

Online: https://www.americanpress.com/

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March 3

The Advocate on Louisiana’s tax code:

Taxes of all kinds come from the economy, and taxes are ultimately paid by customers of businesses, local or out-of-state.

That’s why it’s important to focus on the big picture of Louisiana’s increasingly ragged and convoluted tax code — and get some more specific ideas from this year’s candidates for governor and Legislature about how to fix it. The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry has a new report that focuses attention on the tax bills. We hope it helps to spark a discussion about how to fix things.

The report, misleadingly, aims its data in a political direction that is not likely to be helpful to a results-oriented discussion of reform. The problem is timing.

The report said Louisiana was first in the nation for the annual increase in state and local business taxes from 2016 to 2017. That reflects something of a post-recession national trend, as other states raised business taxes, but Louisiana’s was significantly higher: 12.5 percent, compared to 2 percent nationally, and 3.3 percent in Texas, our neighbor and friendly economic competitor.

But more context is needed, and that should include the catastrophic impact of former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tax cuts, slashing of aid to colleges, reducing state payrolls first and assessing the results later. As LABI President Stephen Waguespack well knows, as a former top aide to Jindal, the Legislature — with Republican leaders in both House and Senate — had to go along with big tax increases because the last administration left the state in a budgetary crisis.

More than that, Jindal’s years left colleges less competitive, students struggling with higher tuition bills — and many business taxes reduced without a thought to the revenues lost. To say business was persecuted by the somewhat haphazard tax increases needed in 2016 and 2017 ignores that vital context.

Louisiana is business-friendly, but it also has a historic populist streak that makes our tax code less than perfect, desperately needing a big fix. Over and over again, despite the formidable influence of LABI and industrial groups in the Legislature, no coalition came together to make the far-reaching reforms needed politically possible.

Perhaps that was hostility to a Democratic governor in a Republican state, or perhaps it was just that legislators feared a backlash from voters if they raised direct taxes. Perhaps Gov. John Bel Edwards fumbled the ball a few times, even if he is an ex-quarterback of Amite High.

Prominent business voices — the Committee of 100 for Economic Development, among others — have pushed broad changes. We need them.

Going back to the economists’ view, though, the legislators have raised taxes on all of us, whether or not they called them business taxes. LABI’s view is worth quoting: “Unfortunately, most of the new tax policy has only served to further complicate and burden Louisiana businesses, as state rankings for tax competitiveness fall even lower.”

The way forward is to fix that, and simply repealing business taxes without replacing the revenues — Jindalnomics, in a word — is not the conclusion we should reach.

Online: https://www.theadvocate.com/

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March 3

NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune on a more sustainable Mardi Gras:

There’s nothing better during Mardi Gras than the catch. You make eye contact with a masked rider on a float and score a piece of Carnival treasure.

For two weeks, you fill bags with pounds of glittery beads, hula hoops, glow-in-the-dark bracelets and necklaces and blinky rings.

Then, at the end, you’ve got to figure out what to do with all that plastic, most of which you’ll never put on again.

Some throws are usable, like the zippered pouches and mini-notebooks from Muses, the cellphone lanyard from Nyx or the glass beads some krewes have started throwing again. Some are coveted keepsakes, like the Zulu coconut, Muses shoes and Nyx purses.

Or, the yellow flags tossed to the crowd Thursday night with “Never Been Thrown, Float 20” printed on them. That’s definitely a keeper.

Some people use beads for their art, and some sort their loot and take it to ARC of Greater New Orleans to be repackaged and reused.

But most of those strings of plastic go into landfills or, as New Orleanians have learned, into our storm drains. Tons of beads and other trinkets never make it home with anyone. They litter the streets and sidewalks and are scooped up and sent to landfills by the street-cleaning crews who follow parades.

We can’t go on this way. Or, we shouldn’t.

The city found 46 tons of Mardi Gras beads in New Orleans’ drainage system along five blocks of St. Charles Avenue in 2018. That’s 92,000 pounds on just one small section of the parade route.

Street-cleaning crews scoop up about 900 tons of waste on average during the Mardi Gras season. Last year, that number was nearly 1,200 tons, according to the city.

“We have to face the consequences at the end of the parade,” Howard Mielke, a Tulane University pharmacology professor, told NOLA.com ′ The Times-Picayune reporter Maria Clark. “Watching the gigantic sanitation trucks come by at the end. visually, it’s spectacular to see that take place.”

It is impressive how quickly that happens and how clean the route is afterward. But that feat covers up the fact that we are putting tons of waste into our environment that isn’t going to break down and could have toxins in it.

Mielke has researched the amount of lead in Mardi Gras beads picked up along St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street.

His 2013 study found lead in four bead samples, including small green beads, large green beads, non-metalized black beads and non-metalized small red beads. That small number might reassure some people. But he also found higher traces of lead accumulated in the ground along the parade routes.

“That’s old soil that has had years and years of exposure to lead. Kids pick beads up off the ground and don’t know they have been contaminated by the parade route itself,” Mielke said.

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There are alternatives being developed. An LSU biological sciences professor has a patent pending on biodegradable beads made from algae. Misti and Aron Medders, who live Uptown, have started making environmentally-friendly throws to sell. They planned to make 550 dozen of their “No-Call Nola” necklaces made with black and white recyclable plastic beads and a little yellow penalty flag.

Recycling efforts are growing, and the city is putting bumpers across some storm drains to keep the beads out.

That is a start, but we need to do much more. South Louisiana is one of the most environmentally fragile places on earth. It needs to be better protected from pollution.

No one wants to lose the thrill of the catch, but we should be more thoughtful and careful about what gets tossed off a float.

Online: https://www.nola.com/