- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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June 29

The Times-Picayune on creating a better future for Louisiana children:

Childhood should be carefree, but it is far from that for hundreds of thousands of youngsters in Louisiana. Since the beginning of the national recession in 2008, more children here are living in poverty, more have parents who are unemployed, more are being raised by a single parent and fewer are in preschool, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Louisiana again ranked 48th out of 50 states when the foundation released its annual Kids Count report June 21.

Twenty-eight percent of children in Louisiana live in poverty, and more children are living in extreme poverty than were eight years ago. Many of those families are “food insecure,” which basically means there are times during the year when they don’t have enough to eat.

The increasing hardships here generally track the eight years Bobby Jindal was governor of Louisiana. Among other things, he slashed state funding to food pantries and turned down the federal Medicaid expansion. Lawmakers also rejected a bill to increase a tax credit for poor families that advocates said would have given people some badly needed cash for essentials.

As the state budget tanked, Gov. Jindal and legislators refused to raise taxes. That resulted in deep cuts to health care and higher education, including post-secondary training programs that could improve people’s job skills and make them more hirable.

Since the economic downturn in 2009, Louisiana hasn’t “had the resources or the ability to focus on that,” said Barry Erwin, who heads the Council for a Better Louisiana. “We’re just trying to keep the doors open.”

With budget struggles continuing, that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. “It’s hard to look at where we are now, in this moment, and see a time again when we’re going to be able to invest in some of these needs,” he said.

Things are more hopeful, though.

Gov. John Bel Edwards accepted the extra federal Medicaid funding when he took office in January. An estimated 375,000 people will be added to the Medicaid rolls starting next week. Louisiana had done a good job of getting poor children covered by Medicaid, but the expansion will give families greater financial relief.

It will take some time to get so many new Medicaid recipients signed up, but the Edwards administration has a good strategy. The state got approval to pre-qualify people who are already receiving food stamps.

Gov. Edwards inherited a difficult situation, including a $3 billion deficit that took much of his and lawmakers’ attention this spring. Legislators raised taxes to take care of a large part of the budget gap, but much of the income is temporary. There still are major cuts coming as well. Students getting TOPS scholarships for college will get 100 percent funding this fall, but only 40 percent in the spring unless state revenues pick up.

That will leave many families struggling to find money to cover tuition and other costs. And it may mean that lower income students will have to drop out.

Louisiana already has a high rate of teenagers who are neither in school nor working, and the TOPS cuts could make those numbers worse.

There are positive trends in the Kids Count report. More children in Louisiana have health insurance, more students are passing fourth-grade reading tests and fewer teens are having babies.

But it will take a focused effort to truly improve children’s lives. Louisiana needs to expand preschool to get children off to a stronger start in school. The state needs to beef up training to move young people into better jobs and out of poverty. And the list goes on.

The past eight years took us in the wrong direction. It’s time to turn things around.

Online:

https://www.nola.com

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June 28

The Courier on improving the leadership on state boards:

There are hundreds of boards, commissions and task forces that come under the state’s oversight.

Unfortunately, there is little oversight involved, and few if any state officials know how much the boards cost or how much they spend.

According to a recent report, there are 471 state boards, but only 30 of them have specific line items in the state budget. The rest spend taxpayer money, and many of them pay their members’ travel expenses.

The fact that no one is minding the store should be troubling to every taxpayer in Louisiana.

Often, these boards are made up of members appointed through political connections. And often the real public purpose of the board itself is dubious, at best.

For instance, the state has a Board of Cosmetology, a Fur Advisory Commission, A Folk Life Commission and hundreds of others.

Gov. John Bel Edwards has said his administration has been studying the dizzying array of public bodies that are operating under the state’s control since he took office in January.

And at least one legislator has said the state needs to study the issue and recommend cutbacks to the number of boards - work that could be accomplished by a new special commission, he suggested.

Another legislator, Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, said the state’s efforts so far have amounted to, “research, do nothing, repeat.”

The real problem is that each little board or commission serves its own constituency, and the members themselves might be the only people in the state who understand what each board does.

The Legislature should understand exactly which boards it has created, what each one does and how much it costs.

Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, brought up one way to separate the boards that are doing real public work from those that are completely unnecessary.

“We’ve eliminated some, but we could probably eliminate more,” he said. “Previously, we have asked these boards and commissions to show up and tell us what they do, and if they don’t show up, it gives us a reason to cut them off.”

The governor’s office has been studying the issue for months, and surely by now, it has some understanding of some of the boards. Let’s hope we see some action - and soon - on whittling down our state’s boards and commissions to a manageable number of important bodies.

Our public officials should be carefully guarding the state’s meager resources. That means limiting the number of public agencies spending taxpayer money. At the very least, the state’s budget should clearly outline what each board costs and how much it spends.

Simple diligence requires no less.

Here’s hoping for some leadership from Edwards on an issue that could save the state some money. The fact that we don’t even know how much is further proof that this issue demands attention.

Online:

https://www.houmatoday.com

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June 27

The Advocate on coastal restoration:

If Mother Nature has her harsh way, we’ll be rebuilding marsh for a long, long time in coastal Louisiana.

That is a given, however challenging our state’s goals for dealing with the unprecedented impact of both subsidence and rising sea levels.

The 2012 master plan for the coast boldly sought to halt the wetlands loss that sees an average of a football field eroding away from the coast every hour. But like all long-range plans, that ambition was based on assumptions, including a moderate level of sea-level rise.

Now, the master plan is being revised, but even as it is, there are increasingly disturbing numbers from international scientists about the impact of global warming on the seas.

“We don’t believe that anymore,” said Johnny Bradberry about the master plan’s ambitions of no net loss of land in the state. He is the new executive assistant to the governor for coastal activities and chairman of the state’s coastal authority.

Karim Balhadjali, deputy chief at the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, explained that the “no net loss” projection depended on forecasts that predicted only moderate levels of sea rise.

The officials are right to face forthrightly the difficulties of repairing the vast impact of erosion and subsidence on the coast.

David Muth, director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Gulf Restoration Program, noted that the less optimistic scenarios in the master plan didn’t promise a net gain in coastal land.

“Obviously, it’s become clearer five years since the master plan that the projected sea level rise has become worse,” Muth said. “It really comes as no surprise.”

Is coastal restoration a myth? Hardly. In fact, the state’s coastal authority and its collaborating federal, university and private-sector partners deserve credit for a great deal of increase in acreage in the coastal zone. But it’s a major task to get ahead of the impact of rising seas around the world.

The original $50 billion price tag over 50 years also is likely to increase with the new 2017 master plan, Bradberry said, in part reflecting changing conditions along the coast like the more dire forecasts for sea-level rise.

Preserving the marshes is critical, for they provide important defenses against hurricanes, absorbing surge and reducing flooding. That saves lives and property; even one major storm can cause billions of dollars in damage if the coastal buffer is denuded over decades.

Col. James Waskom, the head of the state emergency preparedness agency, emphasized the word “resiliency” in his talk Monday to the Press Club of Baton Rouge. That is a big goal for the work of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and its state partners, Waskom said.

It’s also one of the key goals for Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the city of New Orleans’ plans to become better prepared for future events.

The state and its partners are increasingly focusing on what are called “nonstructural” projects, which might not directly involve levees or floodwalls.

Jacques Hebert, spokesman for the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, said a lot of work still can be done to prevent the worst-case scenario of continued erosion that leads the Gulf of Mexico up to the doorstep of cities like New Orleans, Houma and Morgan City.

“Our perspective is it’s not a time to slow down the master plan; it’s time to accelerate it,” Hebert said. “It will do a lot of good in protecting a lot of communities across the coast and industry and wildlife.”

We agree with that agenda. And we believe that it is important that the state’s coastal authority and other agencies lay out the hard facts on their tasks.

Online:

https://theadvocate.com

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