- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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March 1

The Courier on offshore boundaries:

The state of Florida has territory that extends nine miles off its shores into the surrounding ocean.

The state of Texas’ territory, too, extends nine miles off its coast.

Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, though, have boundary lines that are drawn just three miles offshore.

That might seem like a pretty small issue, just a matter of where state waters stop and national waters begin. And it is, far as the water is concerned.

For the rights to the minerals - oil and gas - found beneath the floor of the ocean, though, the issue could have hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.

Louisiana, for instance, could increase its tax revenue by an estimated $500 million to $1 billion by simply using the offshore boundaries already in use in Florida and Texas.

That is why the issue is so important. And, it is why the federal government is unlikely to give in without a fight.

A lot of money hangs in the balance.

Still, Louisiana is trying once again to have the U.S. Congress impose the same rules on Louisiana that hold sway on its Gulf Coast neighbors.

State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, has introduced a resolution in the Legislature asking Congress to use a fairer system for determining states’ offshore boundaries.

“If Congress is a believer in state rights … they would recognize that we are not being treated fairly,” Claitor said.

Claitor introduced a similar law in 2011 that was passed by the state Legislature, but that law will have no effect unless Congress takes action or unless the U.S. Supreme Court determines that the same rules should apply to every state.

The latest resolution amounts to another request. Fairness suggests the issue should be decided in Louisiana’s favor, but past cases make that possibility less than certain.

The money at stake also makes Louisiana’s case less likely to succeed.

Still, fair is fair. And having state boundaries at one distance for some states and a third that distance for others presents a simple issue of fairness: Why - aside from the money from the mineral rights - would the federal government have different rules for different states, all in the same region of the country and into the same body of water?

Louisiana has tried for years to make a similar case relating offshore oil and gas royalties to onshore royalties. The states where oil and gas is produced on land get a much larger share of the royalties those companies pay to the federal government for the rights to the oil and gas.

When those rights are offshore - even though states such as Louisiana bear the brunt of the environmental damage done to get to those resources - the states get a much smaller share.

Louisiana, once again, is just asking for its fair share.

Online:

http://www.houmatoday.com

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Feb. 27

The Advocate on state sales tax bill:

Nobody wins, really, when the state faces such a tragic financial situation that an emergency sales tax increase is needed to balance the budget.

Nor do we like a sales tax hike in general, although we understand the rationale for it in this crunch.

But in coming together to deal more honestly with the state’s finances for the first time in a long while, both the Legislature’s Republican majority and Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards appear to be working together constructively to put the budget on a more sustainable course.

The big win, 76-27 on the main tax bill Thursday, was above the two-thirds vote of 70 needed. It levies a new sales tax for 18 months, a deadline that was pushed by the GOP as a way of keeping up the pressure for long-term tax reform.

The sales tax bill and other levies now go to the Senate. That’s where the details of the sales tax bill should be assessed to determine the scope of the tax hike, and necessary adjustments made; House members included an exclusion for manufacturing equipment purchases, for example.

Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, will seek to reconcile the tax proposals with some budget cuts pushed by House Republicans. Both are still needed, with an estimated $900 million to be cut from this year’s budget. As the budget year ends June 30 and most government expenditures are in payroll and mostly spent, there was no realistic way for agencies to absorb that kind of damage.

The more than $200 million that the sales tax is expected to bring in during the budgetary fourth quarter is essential, along with budget cuts and some use of one-time money, to stabilize the situation. After years of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s borrowing from other funds and tapping vast sums of one-time money to pay for operating costs, there just simply isn’t enough loose change to make up the difference.

Edwards’ budget team, headed by former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, has put together a package that earned support across party lines. And we believe Edwards when he says the sales tax is not something he’s thrilled with either.

What the House has done, by insisting on a “sunset” date for the sales tax, has put on the front burner the need for lawmakers and the governor to settle on a more far-reaching tax reform package. The sales tax increase for the new fiscal year, beginning July 1, should be a bridge and not a permanent crutch.

The exact proportions of the tax increases required for the longer term will be a subject for debate. No one can argue plausibly - least of all the legislators of both parties who went along with too many of Jindal’s budgetary gimmicks - that getting rid of one-time money and other short-term maneuvers can be righted without more revenue.

So we know that ending the practice of one-time money for recurring expenses is going to cost all of us more in taxes, day to day. But it is ultimately a conservative agenda of sound money in the state budget, instead of funny money and imaginary numbers.

Most of us don’t like the notion of paying more at the register, but the sales tax increase is intended to be temporary - if the State Capitol can get its act together on a new and more effective tax code for Louisiana.

Online:

http://theadvocate.com/

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March 2

The American Press on new Interstate 10 bridge for southwest Louisiana:

Southwest Louisiana’s transportation needs are a critical investment, especially in this time of unprecedented economic growth. The most pressing of these needs, though, is a new Interstate 10 bridge over the Calcasieu River.

The Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance thinks so, too.

On Wednesday the group launched its “In for 10” campaign to build support for a new bridge.

The bridge replacement “is an important issue not only for us in Southwest Louisiana, but really it impacts the nation because we are truly the energy corridor,” said George Swift, alliance president and CEO.

The bridge is one of many roadway projects that need addressing before the population boom that has been forecast actually arrives.

“We’ve been talking about this for years and years and years,” Swift said. “I think we’ve reached a point where it’s time to really step up and get this in motion.”

The National Bridge Inventory said the I-10, built in 1952, was deemed “basically intolerable” in 2009.

Swift said the bridge has long been considered unsafe; it has no turn-off lanes in case of an emergency and no way to prevent blocked traffic in the event of an accident.

The day after the alliance’s campaign launch, three separate multi-car vehicle accidents blocked traffic on the bridge for three hours, right at the height of 5 p.m. traffic.

A recent study found at least 53,000 vehicles cross the bridge every day and over 20,000 more are expected to cross the bridge daily within the next eight to nine years, Swift said.

“We have declining capacity and increased congestion coming to our area,” he said. “We have so much happening in Southwest Louisiana with projects and growth coming that’s going to put even more pressure on the I-10 bridge.”

Swift said the purpose of the “In for 10” campaign is to form a coalition of business leaders and community volunteers who will consistently advocate for the bridge’s replacement.

He said U.S. Rep Charles Boustany and U.S. Sen. David Vitter have already lent their support.

People from around the world have passed over the I-10 bridge, and in recent years, as the bridge has grown older and weaker, many have shuddered as they crossed it. The replacement can’t come fast enough.

Online:

http://www.americanpress.com

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