- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:


Feb. 19

The Courier on Louisiana’s budget and education:

As the state’s governor and lawmaker continue to look for ways to close the shortfall in the current year’s budget, they must be mindful that cuts to education could have long-lasting impacts on students, teachers, administrators and parents.

There is fear among local school officials that state politicians could eye education money as a way to make ends meet.

That would be an unforgivable error that simply could not be justified.

The state is facing grave fiscal problems. The shortfall in this fiscal year is estimated at $850 million to $950 million. The 2017 fiscal year, which begins July 1, is estimated to have as much as a $2 billion shortfall.

Up until now, the fears focused on the state’s budget struggles have focused on health care and higher education - the places where round after round of cuts have taken place over recent years.

But other recipients of state money are also concerned.

Across Louisiana, local school boards will receive $3.7 billion this year.

Cuts, even if they are spread evenly over the 69 districts in the state, could be devastating.

The state Minimum Foundation Program, or MFP, is the prime source of revenue for local boards. So anything that interferes with that money stream could be a huge disruption at the local level.

And the state money isn’t the only thing causing concerns.

Local boards are also dealing with sales tax lulls that have followed the downturn in the oil industry.

Fortunately, the districts in Terrebonne and Lafourche have planned - to the extent that they could - for the lean times. They have some margin built into their budgets. But neither has enough to absorb deep cuts to their state revenue.

Gov. John Bel Edwards has said his goal is to mend the state’s budget without decreasing Louisiana’s investment in public education.

That is a worthwhile goal, but it needs to be more than a goal; it should be a commitment honored by the government and the Legislature.

As our state officials continue to struggle with the budget crisis, they will have to put the emphasis on cuts everywhere possible to avoid tax increases. And even with deep cuts to state spending, there is still a real possibility that tax increases will be on the horizon.

The cuts, though, must be made in places where the state can afford to cut services or workers.

We do not have the luxury of skimping on education, either at the local school level or at the college and university level.

Louisiana has for far too long neglected its education systems, and it only recently began to make real strides in catching up with our neighboring states.

Our colleges and universities have already lost that ground and then some. We must protect our public school systems from a similar fate.




Feb. 22

The New Orleans Advocate on BP oil spill settlement:

With the problems facing our eroding coastal areas, the people of Louisiana would be rightly upset if money from the legal settlement of the giant BP oil spill in 2010 were to be raided for the general state budget.

However, the state has two pots of money from the litigation against the companies responsible for the drilling disaster. The far smaller settlement is based on economic damages to the state, such as lost state income from taxes. The first $200 million of the some $1 billion settlement is now available to the state; the remainder will be paid out over a period of years, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne told lawmakers.

The bigger part of the BP litigation settlement will provide as much as $6 billion over time for coastal restoration and hurricane protection. This is a big deal, obviously: The state’s master plan envisions spending $50 billion over the coming decades to respond to the physical damages to the coastline and its complex ecosystem.

Louisiana officials, from governors on down, have insisted that the settlement be used for coastal purposes. There has been a bit of a wobble in that from time to time, with the last administration indirectly tapping some coastal dollars, although in relatively small sums. By and large, though, no great harm has been done - yet.

The payments for economic damages have always been thought to be in a different category from those strictly geared to coastal restoration.

In a perfect world, the $200 million would be spent on one-time purposes related to the state’s economic future. Maybe endowing research programs for the coast and the environment at universities, or spending it on other worthy projects that might have been funded had BP not hurt the state’s seafood production and tourist economy, as it did for a time after the 2010 spill, would be appropriate.

Unhappily, the budget world at the State Capitol is far from perfect these days.

The $200 million initial payment will, under the terms of a bill moving through the Legislature, be used to fill this fiscal year’s budget deficit. The bill is part of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ efforts to fill a gaping hole of about $900 million in the current year’s budget.

There are only a few months left before the fiscal year ends on June 30. Cutting the kind of money to correct the imbalance left over by the last administration is essentially impossible and the “noncoastal” BP settlement money is a relatively easy sacrifice.

The Edwards bill sailed without objection through the Senate Finance Committee, and it is likely to be approved.

We understand that the conditions for using this money in a more constructive fashion don’t exist right now. Nor should this constitute a precedent for future raids on dedicated coastal money. However, it’s all too easy for future legislators and administrations to tap coastal money for other purposes. Vigilance on the part of coastal advocates is still called for.




Feb. 21

The Times-Picayune on gun theft:

Most people think about gun safety in terms of things they should or shouldn’t do to avoid accidental injury and death. Keep a gun unloaded when it’s not in use. But always treat it like it is loaded. Keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. Don’t put a finger on the trigger until you’re ready to shoot.

Those are good rules that should be faithfully followed, but they’re all reduced to meaninglessness if a gun owner doesn’t lock up that weapon and it gets stolen and used in a crime. That happens often in the New Orleans metropolitan area. According to a public records analysis done by NOLA.com ‘ The Times-Picayune reporters Jonathan Bullington and Richard Webster, in 2015 in New Orleans and unincorporated Jefferson Parish, an average of three guns was reported stolen everyday.

And there’s absolutely no reason to believe that the 3-times-a-day figure accounts for all the guns that were stolen. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, about 500,000 guns are lost or stolen each year in the U.S., but in 2012, for example, only 190,342 gun thefts were reported. If underreporting in New Orleans and unincorporated Jefferson Parish is consistent with the national average of underreporting, then one might assume that there were an average of 7.5 weapons per day that went missing last year.

Whether it’s 3 weapons a day, 7.5 weapons a day or somewhere in between, the thought of so many guns being stolen and passed on to criminals is frightening. New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison said, “It’s not the people who are purchasing firearms legally who are committing the shootings and the murders.”

But reducing the number of shootings and murders will likely require the cooperation and the vigilance of people who have bought their weapons legally.

Some gun owners who’ve had their weapons stolen took every reasonable step to prevent such thievery. For example, Keith Ortolano, a parademic with the Gretna Police Department, said burglars came into his Algiers home in 2014 and stole the weapons he had locked up in a 200-pound gun safe that was bolted to the wall.

“They tossed the entire room but didn’t take anything else,” he said. “They pried the (gun) safe right off the wall and out the window in the middle of the day.” Other local gun owners have similar reports of their properly-stored weapons being taken by remarkably determined gun thieves.

But there are other gun owners who have their guns taken from unlocked cars. “You have a very dangerous weapon … and yet people leave it in their car and the car is unlocked,” Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said. “In some cases the window is open, and there have been instances where people have simply reached in the passenger side of the car, opened the glove box, saw a gun and walked out with it. Technically, that’s a burglary, but it’s almost a reckless disregard for public safety for someone to leave a gun in those circumstances in their vehicle.”

For many years now local law enforcement officials have been telling local residents that they could help reduce crime by simply locking the doors to their vehicles and houses. In May 2008, for example, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand said his office had investigated 246 vehicle burglaries the previous month and that more than half of the vehicles burglarized had been left unlocked. Multiple unlocked houses had also been burglarized. The number of burglaries was so distressing, a spokesman for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office said then because 177 firearms had been stolen in the first four months of that year.

There are some obvious steps that gun owners should take. They should lock up their weapons. They should record the serial numbers on those weapons. In 2013, New Orleans police were not given the serial numbers for 46 percent of the firearms reported stolen.

People whose guns are stolen should also immediately summon law enforcement.

Frustrated that some people report their guns stolen only after those guns have been used to commit crimes, New Orleans City Councilman James Gray has said he will introduce an ordinance next month that makes the reporting of a stolen gun mandatory. And he has enough votes for that ordinance to pass. But other cities with such ordinances don’t seem to have had success proving that gun-theft victims were deliberate in not calling police.

Councilman Gray should abandon his mandatory reporting idea because it’s too difficult to prove intent. How would officials know that a person whose gun was stolen has not reported it? Even if police find a stolen gun, how would prosecutors prove that its rightful owner was aware of its disappearance?

Yes, many gun owners need to do better, but they’re not alone in that regard. It took New Orleans police two days to respond to a Lakeview man who called Labor Day weekend 2014 to report a gun stolen from his SUV. Because the family had to use the SUV in the meantime, the police couldn’t collect any evidence from it. So months later, when a suspected teenage shooter was arrested in possession of the Lakeview man’s gun, police had no way to connect him to the burglary.

What good is a mandatory reporting law if it the crime scene is irrevocably compromised by the time the police arrive?



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