- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

Sept. 27

The price of oil is sharply down from last year, but if there’s one thing Louisiana has still got, it’s lots of natural gas at a historically low price level.

That is of course good news for the metropolitan areas of the state, including big refineries in Baton Rouge and Lake Charles and in the River Parishes above New Orleans. They are consumers of oil, but the industry complex is also a huge consumer of natural gas for petrochemical manufacturing.

Those industries are important economic drivers, but what about regular automobile drivers? A number of business vehicle fleets have been covering to compressed natural gas instead of regular gasoline-powered engines.

An obstacle to wider acceptance of CNG vehicles has been infrastructure: Where do you go when you need a fill-up?

Fleet vehicles are typically fueled at CNG stations where they are based; there is also at least one station accessible for heavy-duty vehicles on South Choctaw Drive in Baton Rouge.

In Lafayette, a company recently opened a public CNG station on Verot School Road, one of several stations along the Interstate 10 corridor, including one in Houston. The addition allows fleet owners “to make the shift away from diesel and (extend) the range of CNG-powered fleets already on the road today,” said TruStar President Adam Comora of the new station.

Will all this catch on? We are of course delighted to see a Louisiana product being used for vehicles. There seems little danger of natural gas running out, even with the increased use in vehicles and exporting of natural gas to other countries - the latter is also a dawning industry in Louisiana.

At the same time, electric vehicles are becoming competitive and longer-ranged, appealing to other motorists.

The marketplace will eventually decide if gasoline is to be widely replaced by alternatives, but today’s lower gasoline prices suggest that it’s a little harder sell right now for switching to CNG or electric cars.

And while there is no guarantee over the longer term that gasoline prices - or for that matter, natural gas prices - will stay as low as they are today, the fact is that Louisiana’s oil and gas industry is leading the way in a revolution of productivity.

The combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing - “fracking” - and enhanced methods of recovery are bringing more onshore oil and gas into the marketplace. This is a supply revolution in the supply-and-demand system, so prices will be down for a while. But the worldwide demand for energy will only increase and Louisiana’s key role as a producer and refiner of petrochemical products is one our critical contributions to the economy of the globe, not just our nation.

With new outlets, such as vehicles and exports, Louisiana’s natural gas production is a vital and growing element in our economy.

We welcome these advances.

Online:

https://theadvocate.com

____

Sept. 29

The Alexandria (Louisiana) Town Talk on supporting leaders over attacks during the primary election:

We’re less than a month away from the Oct. 24 primary election. As the days left to the election count down, the campaigns of the candidates will ramp up.

Whether it’s newspaper ads, TV, radio, outdoor or online and social media, candidates are scrambling to get their message out to voters.

Sadly, far too often the candidate’s message isn’t focused on what they will do to improve conditions in our state. Instead, many candidates prefer to promote themselves by tearing down their opponents. Instead of saying “vote for me because I have a plan and the skills to fix the challenges facing Louisiana,” candidates campaign on a platform of “vote for me because the other guys running are bad people.”

That’s not a platform. And voting for one person not because you feel they are the best candidate for the job, but to simply vote against someone else isn’t casting a responsible vote.

Louisiana faces huge economic challenges. With oil revenues declining, the state is looking at even more losses in revenue. The people elected to lead the state, from the governor to state legislators, will have to make serious decisions to make strategic spending cuts while finding ways to increase revenues. They can’t hide behind no-tax pledges and smoke-and-mirrors tactics that create the illusion of a balanced budget. They will have to make hard decisions that will affect us all.

We encourage voters to do their homework. Check out candidate’s websites. Attend or watch the candidate debates. Learn what their positions are and what their plan is to tackle the challenges facing the state.

What we hope voters don’t do is make their decision based on a TV attack ad or a negative piece they get in the mail in the coming days. Negative campaigning isn’t new. It’s been around pretty much as long as there have been elections. And, one can reasonably assume that the reason it has lasted this long is that candidates believe it works. If they didn’t think it got them votes, they would stop doing it in a minute.

And that’s on us, the voting public. We have to be smarter than that. We have to learn to filter out the negatives and focus on real issues. Yes, a candidate’s character matters. But sometimes there is more to the story than what gets shared in an attack ad. And, sometimes people make mistakes, learn from them, and become stronger for it.

Name calling, finger pointing and attacking others won’t solve the state’s budget challenges. Our state needs leadership that can work together with multiple groups to find and implement solutions.

It’s up to each of us to do the research to find those leaders.

Online:

https://www.houmatoday.com

____

Sept. 27

The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune on how to make Louisiana thrive:

Louisiana is facing monumental budget problems as voters prepare to choose a new governor, so it is a perfect moment to think about our future. What are our aspirations for the state in four years? In 20 years? And how do we get there?

To help jumpstart the conversation, the Council for a Better Louisiana put together a vision statement for the state.

CABL President and CEO Barry Erwin introduced the effort, called Louisiana Matters, last week. It includes broad goals for the economy and innovation, education and quality of life - and more than a dozen specific policy items geared to this fall’s elections.

“It’s not designed to prescribe how we should do everything we need to do as a state. There are, in many cases, a number of ways to approach things, and we think they should all be on the table,” he said.

It is a smart list.

Under economy and innovation:

Reform Louisiana’s spending and tax structure to be fair to taxpayers and stabilize the budget.

Make sure state tax credits and incentives are targeted to fuel economic growth.

Put a priority on university-based research that has commercial potential.

Focus on career paths for high school students that are in high-demand fields.

Significantly increase investment in highway infrastructure.

Education:

Expand preschool and childcare programs to cover more at-risk children.

Protect the state’s accountability system to ensure parents can know how Louisiana public schools are performing.

Continue to build “a wide and dynamic array” of education choices for families.

Continue implementing the new higher academic standards and tests that allow Louisiana students to be compared with their peers in other states.

Provide stable funding to higher education and give it more autonomy, but also hold universities and colleges accountable for performance.

Restructure TOPS college scholarships to ensure the program is sustainable.

Livability and quality of life

Accept the Medicaid expansion in Louisiana to provide health care coverage to more residents.

Support the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s master plan for rebuilding and protecting the coast and ensure restoration money isn’t diverted to other uses.

Develop a strategic statewide water management plan for Louisiana that will help sustain those resources.

CABL is right. If we made all of those things happen, Louisiana and its people would likely be thriving. Or at least more of us would be than are now.

And that really should be the goal of our leaders, shouldn’t it?

With midyear budget cuts looming once again, the next governor and Legislature cannot keep putting off fiscal reform. The Jindal administration hasn’t said how large the deficit will be this year, but Treasurer John Kennedy puts it above $100 million. In addition, there is a $300 million shortfall in the Medicaid program and a $19 million gap in the TOPS college scholarship budget.

The Medicaid budget shortage is particularly frustrating because Gov. Bobby Jindal has refused extra federal money to expand the program. All four major candidates vying to replace him have said they would consider taking that money - and they should. Estimates are that more than 200,000 uninsured Louisiana residents could be covered by the expansion.

As CABL noted in its issue paper: “We protect spending in huge areas of our budget through constitutional and statutory dedications while we have a tax structure that is unnecessarily complicated and makes us appear non-competitive with other states.”

This is why health care and higher education feel the brunt of budget cuts year after year.

Universities are being told now to “be prudent” with their current budgets because the state doesn’t expect to have enough money to meet costs for the entire fiscal year. In other words, don’t spend any money you absolutely don’t have to spend.

The trouble is that state funding for colleges and universities has been cut drastically over the past seven years - a 34 percent reduction, the largest in the nation during that period.

Louisiana also needs to invest more in our youngest children. It is crucial to provide preschool and high-quality childcare to children from birth to 4 to get them ready for school. The Legislature acknowledged that with Act 3, which was approved in 2012.

The act requires the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to create a comprehensive and integrated network of childcare and preschool services. But the money to put the plan in place hasn’t been appropriated. BESE estimated the cost of the first phase of Act 3 at $80 million and said $200 million would be needed by 2020 for full implementation, the United Way of Southeast Louisiana said in the candidate questionnaire it prepared for this fall’s elections.

The governor and lawmakers elected this fall will have a difficult job ahead of them. But they also have a great opportunity to fix long-simmering problems - and put Louisiana on track for growth and prosperity.

They should be fine, if they think about CABL’s theme: Louisiana Matters.

Online:

https://www.nola.com

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