- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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Feb. 12

The Courier on providing some relief for shrimpers:

Our shrimpers have known struggles for years.

From increasing costs to decreasing prices, they have battled against economic pressures from both sides.

Add in hurricanes and a catastrophic oil spill, and their difficulties have been massive.

Now, though, they are finally getting a bit of good news - at least on one front.

President Obama last week signed into law a measure that should shield shrimpers from foreign countries dumping their shrimp on the U.S. market.

Dumping is the unfair practice of selling goods in a foreign market for less money than they cost.

The long-term impact is that cheaper exports can drive domestic producers out of business and leave the market ripe for exploitation.

That is a practice that harms shrimpers, of course. But it also works to the detriment of consumers who benefit from a competitive marketplace - as long as that competition is fair and legal.

The law signed last week, the Preventing Recurring Trade Evasion and Circumvention, or PROTECT, Act, should make it easier for various federal agencies to communicate with each other to root out unfair trade practices by some of the notorious violators.

This won’t amount to any immediate relief for shrimpers wondering how they will pay for fuel their next time out on the water, but it should be another tool for federal officials working to crack down on the illegal importers.

And the problem is severe.

Last year alone, shrimpers saw prices decline steeply, a fact that is influenced by how much of a product is on the market.

“Today, Louisiana seafood is finally being given a fair shot to compete in our own market. This is a tremendous victory, and I will keep fighting to ensure American businesses making American products can compete in America’s marketplace,” said U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, who sponsored the bill.

This seems like a good step forward.

Our shrimpers already have to compete against foreign exporters who do not have to obey the same environmental and labor regulations that guide their own behavior.

This isn’t about giving shrimpers anything extra. Instead, it is simply about insisting that the same rules apply to all.

If this law makes it easier for federal regulators to do that, it will be a bountiful haul for our shrimpers.

Online:

http://www.houmatoday.com

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Feb. 15

The Advocate on Louisiana’s coastal funding:

On the premier environmental problem facing Louisiana, the president of the United States is exercising a profoundly negative influence.

The proposed federal budget for 2017 seeks to repeal a landmark 2006 law that would provide greatly increased government funding for coastal protection and restoration.

President Barack Obama’s budget urges repeal of the law - dubbed GOMESA - that shares some offshore drilling revenue with four states on the Gulf of Mexico that bear the principal burden of energy production in the region.

This is wrong, not only on grounds of equity but because of the pressing need for new sources of money to fund large and expensive environmental restoration projects.

Louisiana would get the bulk of the $500 million allowed under the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, although that figure is the top limit. The budget estimate for 2017 is $375 million from offshore drilling, with Louisiana due about $176 million.

The White House proposed repeal of the payments as “unnecessary and costly” to a “handful of states.”

As the people of Louisiana see the shrinking of our coastal wetlands, in part because of the environmental consequences of energy production, we wonder why the U.S. government should not share some of its wealth with this particular state.

Restoring Louisiana’s coastlands to stability, much less repairing damages of the past few years, is certainly going to be costly. But the cost will be far less than hundreds of billions of dollars in property damage suffered from hurricanes. The giant storms of the past decade also cost more than 1,000 lives along the Gulf Coast.

A coastal buffer against hurricanes is just one benefit. The wetlands of Louisiana are vital contributors to fisheries and recreation, renewable and sustainable resources for the entire nation.

A current estimate is that 17 square miles of the state are lost every year. That will be only worse during violent storms battering the barrier islands and environmentally sensitive wetlands.

Louisiana has worked hard to develop a master plan for coastal restoration. Revenues for coastal protection are not to be raided for other state purposes but are to be dedicated to the plan.

It is a high priority for the Louisiana delegation in Congress to preserve the funding under GOMESA.

“We are very vigilant about that,” U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, told editors of The Advocate on Monday. “We feel we can ward off attacks on it.”

Boustany and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, of Metairie, are the two members of the delegation remaining from the original group that passed the revenue-sharing bill. Louisiana’s representatives are generally a conservative bunch, but in this fight, they can join with major environmental groups that want to fund the restoration of the Louisiana coastline. Elizabeth Weiner, an ecosystems senior policy manager at the Environmental Defense Fund, told The Associated Press that Louisiana has a good plan in place to stem land loss and that the offshore revenues are critically needed.

We commend the delegation for its vigilance on this issue, where the president is failing in his promises to the American people to be a proper steward of the environment of this country.

Online:

http://www.theadvocate.com/

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Feb. 14

The Times-Picayune on Louisiana’s budget:

With Louisiana facing an estimated $943 million hole in the current budget and a $2 billion gap for next year, the Legislature will almost certainly have to raise taxes during its special session. Gov. John Bel Edwards laid out a doomsday scenario Thursday night (Feb. 11) in a televised speech aimed at voters. He warned of everything from the end of TOPS scholarships to unplugged dialysis machines without significant new taxes. In the Republican response, Treasurer John Kennedy argued that all the state needs to do is cut waste.

Reality is somewhere in between, and the important thing for lawmakers going into a special session this weekend is to find the right balance.

Legislators only have three weeks to come up with a revenue plan, so they need to be focused. They and the governor also must be willing to compromise. And even though this session is mainly focused on immediate fixes, it is important to take a longer view.

The Public Affairs Research Council has laid out a smart strategy to begin stabilizing the budget. The decisions made in the special session and the regular session following it this spring can put Louisiana in better fiscal shape and begin to reverse bad habits.

“The governor’s first executive budget is likely to look like he’s got no plan except raising revenue. But he and the Legislature should begin developing a realistic plan with a fiscal framework solution. The governor can do better than past executive budgets by establishing an enduring outlook rather than a temporary patchwork or a scare tactic,” PAR said in its Jan. 29 policy brief, “A Plan to Control State Spending.”

The report lays out ways to trim hundreds of millions in spending, redirect money from funds that are currently dedicated and reduce tax credits and exemptions. The report acknowledges the need for tax increases, but on a limited basis.

On taxes, “the aim should be to close only the remaining gap in establishing a sustainable budget, and that gap ought to be thoroughly justified,” the report says. Louisiana’s economy is already in a recession, according to state economists, and taxes need to be added with care.

PAR lays out specific suggestions for balancing the budget, but the strength of the report is in its over-arching philosophy.

The report includes a list of pledges “that state leaders should make to demonstrate both a commitment and a strategy to control costs and to ensure the public that tax increases will not be used simply to allow unchecked government expansion or to distribute new revenue without accountability.”

Those include: don’t bust the debt cap; don’t refinance bonds for quick savings now and higher costs later; don’t push retirement costs off into the future; follow reforms passed in 2014 that put sensible limits on cost of living raises; ask each agency for a plan to reduce contract costs and set specific goals; rein in legislative and judicial branch budgets; promote long-term savings with sentencing reforms; stop raiding the transportation trust fund for non-highway spending; ensure that budget cuts will go toward the 2017 general fund shortfall; reduce state money being used for local capital projects but give those governments the fiscal tools they need to generate revenue.

PAR also recommends streamlining back-office operations for higher education and consolidating redundant academic programs. As for TOPS, the report suggests legislation similar to a 2015 bill from Sen. Jack Donahue that would set a cap for TOPS awards, which now increase with every tuition hike.

Gov. Edwards is right about the severity of the situation. Louisiana hasn’t been in this sort of financial bind since the oil bust of the 1980s.

Falling oil prices are taking a toll on the budget again, but that is only one problem. Corporate tax collections are far below what was predicted for the current fiscal year. And Louisiana residents are spending less than expected, which means that sales tax revenues are down.

The state is paying the price for bad decisions made during Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tenure. He and lawmakers reversed Rep. Vic Stelly’s income tax reforms, and revenues have dropped dramatically. They also spent every possible dollar from trust funds and other one-time sources to prop up the budget year after year. And they gave away far too many tax credits and exemptions.

There seems to be an understanding at the Capitol that those problems must be fixed. That will involve longer-term solutions that won’t help with the $943 million deficit that must be solved by June 30.

But Gov. Edwards and legislators must be wise as they deal with the current crisis. As the PAR report shows, there are policy and spending changes that can produce savings and stabilize the budget for the long-term.

Louisiana has spent the past eight years patching together budgets without worrying about tomorrow. That must stop, now.

Online:

http://www.nola.com

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