- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

May 24

The Courier, Houma, Louisiana, on Morganza taking another step:

The U.S. Congress gave our region a rare but welcome victory this week when both houses approved the Water Resources Development Act, including authorization for the Morganza-to-the-Gulf hurricane protection system.

The House OK’d the bill recently, and the Senate followed suit on Thursday, meaning that with President Obama’s signature, the bill will become law.

The good news is that this is a necessary step in the long bureaucratic process of building a significant levee system to protect much of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes.

The daunting news is that while it was a step forward, authorization does not come with the money needed to build the full-scale version of Morganza.

Still, we must celebrate any incremental victory along this journey, which has been continuing for decades now.

Every step brings us closer to one day enjoying the protection a full-scale Morganza will provide.

This latest action brings us a little closer to the ultimate goal. While it remains in the distant horizon, it did get just a bit closer. For that, we must be thankful.




May 26

The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on TOPS:

Procrastination is a human trait, and it is perhaps most pronounced in the herd of humans in the Louisiana Legislature.

The issue is the popular TOPS scholarships, and the struggle with making it somewhat less generous so that it is affordable in the future.

In concept, something like the bill to increase TOPS requirements will pass one day, simply because TOPS is a large and unaffordable drain on the state’s general fund. But human nature being what it is, and politics being what it is, the herd has simply not worked up the courage to cut costs.

Leaders in both House and Senate are aware of the problem, and bills by House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, and Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville - the latter head of the Finance Committee - have filed some reasonable solutions.

“I think we will allow students to have a higher goal to shoot for,” Donahue argued. “Quite a few of them would raise their standards.”

But even given the influence of Donahue in the Senate - indeed, he is a respected member - his bill to raise TOPS requirements modestly was defeated 23-16. Now, that’s a pretty solid vote but it’s not a monolithic majority.

The debate surely presages some changes in future. “The challenge is, how do you put a handle on this?” asked Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell. In fact, there are a number of ways to cut costs and still provide the benefits of what is now known as the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students.

We liked Donahue’s proposal to raise the academic requirements modestly so that TOPS is really a scholarship, and we suspect that the state will have to go in that direction.

How do you put a handle on this? By taking even a glance at the numbers.

TOPS will cost the state an estimated $250 million next year and $387 million by the 2018-19 school year, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office. That’s up from about $40 million in the late 1990s.

A report from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office last year showed that 44 percent of students lost their TOPS awards between 2002 and 2008, and more than half of those lost the scholarship during the first year of college.

We commend Donahue and others for pushing reforms in the program, and we hope to see its benefits continued, but on a more financially sustainable basis.

Procrastination can’t last forever on a price tag that is going higher every year.




May 24

American Press, Lake Charles, Louisiana, on port of Lake Charles:

Approval of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act by the U.S. Senate on Thursday ensures a vital lifeline for Southwest Louisiana’s economy.

Passed by the Senate 91-7, the legislation contains language that will guarantee that money collected on imported shipping cargo will be used for its intended purpose - dredging and maintaining shipping channels across the country.

That’s critical for our area. The Calcasieu Ship Channel is the major artery for our economy’s heartbeat. When it is clogged - specifically, when silt causes its authorized 40-foot depth to be reduced - it produces an inefficient drag on the Port of Lake Charles and the petrochemical industry, which remains the No. 1 sector for jobs and potential growth in our corner of the state.

U.S. Charles Boustany Jr., R-Lafayette, has long been a critic of Congress’ annual raid on the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. His Realize America’s Maritime Promise Act, aka RAMP Act, sought to put a stop to these shenanigans. His legislation was eventually folded into the Water Resources Act.

Port of Lake Charles Executive Director Bill Rase said the port needs $15 million to $20 million annually to keep the Calcasieu Ship Channel dredged to its proper depth. When it’s not, shippers and customers have to lighten the load of their cargo, increasing their costs.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., labeled the WRRDA one of the most important bills for Louisiana that Congress will pass this year. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., points out that 25 percent of the United States’ waterborne commerce transits through Louisiana’s shipping channels.

But few ports nationally have the impact of Lake Charles, which is fast approaching ranking in the nation’s top 10 for cargo.

Not only do Citgo and Phillips 66 complexes, which rank in the top dozen gasoline refineries in the country, depend on a fully functional Calcasieu Ship Channel, but also the existing liquefied natural gas plants at Hackberry (Sempra) and south of Lake Charles (Lake Charles Energy) and proposed LNG facilities (Magnolia) and Southern California Telephone and Energy.

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act needs only President Obama’s signature to be enacted and correct a long-standing wrong. That should be a given.



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