- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

Feb. 17

American Press, Lake Charles, La., on tax amnesty:

Gov. Bobby Jindal and House Ways and Means Chairman Joel Robideaux are getting together to make sure that the state’s tax amnesty program continues to work for the good of the state and the individuals and corporations who have disputed or delinquent taxes.

That’s good because the state needs the money to pay the bills for which it is obligated. It is also a good sign when the executive and legislative branches of government show a willingness to work together to solve the state’s problems.

The first round of the state’s latest tax amnesty program produced $366 million after legislators dangled huge incentives in front of taxpayers with disputed or delinquent taxes. But the incentives of the second year of the program were less attractive and need some adjustment for the program to work and bring in the needed revenue.

The governor said he would be happy to talk with Robideaux about the program.

Among the suggested changes are a short-term installment plan and modest incentive increase. Taxpayers might get six months to submit payment. The penalty waiver might grow a little. The changes would be made in the legislative session that starts next month.

Legislators hit upon the amnesty program last year as a way to generate $200 million for the state’s health care budget. Before the program started, delinquent tax billings totaled $1.4 billion, and $1.1 billion was tied up in litigation or disputed audits.

The program produced nearly $450 million. The state’s health care bills were paid, and some cash was left over.

Robideaux, R-Lafayette, said one idea for changing the amnesty program is to allow people to pay their tax bills in three installments. He said they might get three to six months instead of having to pay the full amount in one fell swoop.

To appeal to corporations, the amount of penalties forgiven could be increased. “I’m against giving folks the same level (offered last year), but we might make it a little more enticing,” Robideaux said.

Let’s hope that the governor and Legislature can get the kinks out of the tax amnesty program, and move on to solve other problems in Louisiana.




Feb. 15

The Courier, Houma, La., on more information is needed:

The state Department of Environmental Quality is asking a Houma company to clarify the numbers it has submitted for licenses of its planned oilfield waste treatment facility.

Vanguard Environmental asked the DEQ in 2009 for an exemption from air permit requirements because its planned pollution emissions would be less than the 5-ton minimum for the requirements.

It estimated at that time that its annual output would be about 3.4 tons, based on a daily production rate of 4,000 barrels of oilfield wastewater.

However, the company’s application with the Department of Natural Resources says it plans to process an average of 7,200 barrels each day and could process up to 28,000 barrels a day.

Those much larger numbers could mean that its air emissions would be greater, too. These tons of emissions include carcinogens such as benzene and toluene.

Fortunately, a Houma group, We Can Guard Houma, discovered the discrepancy and asked the state to review the company’s paperwork.

The local ordinance for decades regulated where these potentially hazardous sites could be located. Without the protection of the local government, Terrebonne residents must rely on the state to at least uphold its minimal standards.

With any luck, the DEQ and DNR will coordinate their oversight efforts to ensure that companies are submitting accurate figures. In this case, concerned neighbors were double checking the paperwork. There is no guarantee that will take place in all instances.

The company has a few weeks to explain why its numbers are different, according to the DEQ. Perhaps there is a compelling reason. Whatever the outcome, though, it is good to see vigilant private citizens keeping an eye on their government and the industry it is supposed to be overseeing.




Feb. 17

The News-Star, Monroe, La., on AP increase encouraging:

Louisiana’s often-embattled education system just received a bit of good news.

The College Board’s 10th annual Report to the Nation recently ranked the state first in the nation for the highest growth in the number of high school seniors taking advanced placement classes. The number of seniors taking advanced placement tests rose 42 percent from 2012 to 2013.

Students can earn college credits while still in high school through such classes.

But the flip side to the good news is that although it has improved its performance in this area, the state lags far behind the rest of the country in outcomes.

It ranks second from the bottom in the percentage of students graduating from high school with college credits. The national average is 20 percent; Louisiana’s is 5.3 percent.

Barriers are being removed for who couldn’t otherwise afford AP tests. The state fully funded the $89 fee for low-income students taking the end-of-class test that determines whether a student will receive college credit.

The $89 subsidy is for only classes being offered at a school for the first time. However, a partial subsidy of $55 was also offered for any classes for income-qualified students.

Because of this, said Barry Landry, communications director for the Louisiana Department of Education, the number of students receiving college credit for AP classes rose from 1,531 in 2011 to 1,911 in 2013, an increase of 25 percent, compared to the national rise of 6 percent.

That seems logical: More students taking the test means more students scoring high enough to earn the credits.

And it makes good economic sense in the larger picture to help more low-income students to become college-bound.

Getting some of their college courses out of the way while still in high school can help to save students and their parents’ money, as well. Landry said the combined cost savings for Louisiana families was more than $5.6 million.

These efforts to make taking advanced placement courses more affordable and more attractive to students are a big step in the right direction.

The state’s recent showing on the College Board’s report was encouraging. Here’s hoping this step forward is just the first of many.



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