- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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Jan. 21

The Alexandria Town Talk on Rep. Lance Harris’s proposed budget:

The first step in solving a problem is admitting that there is one.



Louisiana has a spending problem - a big one. In an effort to win votes and make as many people happy as they could, Louisiana lawmakers have over the years agreed to offer more services than the state could pay for on a sustainable basis. It’s not that there were not good intentions. Many of the services were needed.

But, as often happens with politics, those good ideas and good intentions get caught up in various political discussions and suddenly morph into things they were never supposed to be. TOPS is a good example. The program started out as a pledge to help a group of underprivileged but hardworking and academically talented students get to college if they continued to work hard and perform in school. It was the classic carrot and stick approach, giving hope to students who otherwise might give up because they lacked the money to further their education.

It was a wonderful, inspirational move. But, over time, it morphed into a free tuition grab for any Louisiana student who met the benchmark academic scores, regardless of their financial position. So, the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich got the same benefit as long as their grades and test scores were comparable. While that’s a great way to get popular with the voting public, it wasn’t what the program was designed to be. And now, the whole program is in jeopardy because it grew beyond the state’s ability to pay for it.

While “mission creep,” like what happened with TOPS, is part of the problem, there are also plenty of instances of waste in departments. Excessive travel spending, training costs, promotional efforts. Plenty of perks that are nice to have when times are good, but luxuries we can’t continue to afford.

Just like dealing with grief, there appear to be a number of steps that we have to endure before we get to a solution to the problem. First there has to be some horrendous breakdown that can’t be hidden. The bust in the oil market, and the ensuing drop in revenue and subsequent massive budget deficits of the past few years took care of that. Then comes denial. Former Gov. Bobby Jindal mastered that in the final years of his administration. Then comes the finger pointing and blame game. There are plenty of culprits to go around, and pretty much everyone who works in state government can and has had a finger pointed their way.

We are hoping we have moved past that phase to the next step, acceptance. Gov. John Bel Edwards has made it clear he understands the problem and has accepted responsibility to try to clean up the mess from his first day in office. Members of the state Legislature have been slower to move on, but Thursday’s release of a plan to cut spending from local representative Lance Harris is a very positive sign.

Under Harris’ plan - which he stresses is his plan and may not get backing from the entire Republican majority - would make $304 million in cuts while not tapping into the state’s Rainy Day Fund. Harris also proposed that by adopting his plan, there would be no need for a special session next month.

We see Harris’ proposal as a bold step forward - a rip the bandage off approach if you will - but we disagree with the notion that it eliminates the need for a special session. Actually, it seems to us to strengthen the case for an extra session. Harris’ plan calls for significant cuts in health care. They may be realistic, they may not. The same is true of some of his other reductions. They may be realistic, but there is not enough detail in this initial release to know for sure. While many GOP leaders have embraced the plan and support making the big cuts and not tapping into the Rainy Day funds to soften the blow, there are dissenters. While the cutbacks may be inevitable, it may be too much too fast.

We see Harris’ plan as a good starting point for discussion. We’ve heard from the Governor and his administration, and now we have something concrete to work with from the Legislature. Now we need the two sides to work together and find the best solution, and a special session seems to us to be the perfect place to do that. That’s how a functional state government is supposed to work.

Should that happen, perhaps we can get to the next step - resolution of the problem - sooner rather than later.

Online: https://www.thetowntalk.com/

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Jan. 23

The Lake Charles American Press on why Sen. Troy Brown should resign:

Domestic violence is unacceptable on any level, and one state senator’s repeated arrests and convictions over the last year and a half are more than enough reasons for him to step down as a state lawmaker.

Troy Brown, a state senator from Geismar, was arrested at his home last July and charged with misdemeanor domestic abuse battery. His wife, Toni, alleged that he bit her during a struggle over a cell phone.

Earlier this month, Brown pleaded no contest to the charge and was sentenced to 30 days in jail, 64 hours of community service, three months’ probation and was ordered to take part in a domestic violence program.

However, he received credit for time served, with two days of jail time suspended. Brown turned himself in to the Ascension Parish jail Jan. 20 to serve a total of 38 hours.

Brown has since apologized but said he will continue serving as a legislator. In a prepared statement, Brown said “not one of the 121,000 citizens I represent has called for me to resign.” He acknowledged “hundreds say this will pass and they are praying for me.”

Brown’s statement has only seemed to fuel other state lawmakers into moving forward with getting him out of the Senate. New Orleans state Sen. JP Morrell told the Advocate that Brown “needs to resign, immediately.” He said nothing in Brown’s statement “says … he truly believes what he did was wrong, that what he did was heinous.” Sen. Dan Claitor of Baton Rouge has also called for Brown’s resignation.

Brown said he will respect the Senate’s decision to expel him, but will “utilize all legal options available to me to protect my constituents’ rights to be represented.”

This isn’t Brown’s first brush with the law when it comes to these types of charges. Brown was accused in November 2015 of punching a woman in the eye while in New Orleans. He also pleaded no contest in that case.

The fallout from the first arrest resulted in Senate President John Alario removing Brown from all his committees.

Despite these arrests, it sounds like Brown won’t be leaving quietly. But one senator said she will seek a lighter punishment.

Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb of Baton Rouge has indicated she wants to suspend Brown from the Senate instead of having him resign. Colomb, a victim of domestic violence, said an expulsion is “too harsh,” and she “believes in second chances.”

The last time a senator was expelled was in 1981. Sen. Gaston Gerald was convicted of a felony for attempting to extort $25,000 from a contractor. Brown’s statement mentioned that no state senator was expelled for “a state misdemeanor.”

Either way, Brown has committed, and admitted to, repeat offenses of violence against women. If his constituents aren’t asking him to step down, he should do the right thing and resign.

Since that appears unlikely, it looks like it will be up to our fellow state senators to expel Brown. The state Legislature has no room for a senator whose actions undermine efforts to protect victims of domestic violence.

Online: https://www.americanpress.com/

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Jan. 23

The Advocate of New Orleans on pipelines in the state:

With Louisiana already crisscrossed by pipelines, is there a need for another?

The market appears to see it, with a “Bayou Bridge” line to be built across 11 parishes from Lake Charles to St. James Parish.

It has become a focal point of criticism from environmental groups, but we encourage regulators to support the pipeline unless there is found some compelling reason not to.

A public hearing in Baton Rouge for a required U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit drew more than 400 people, both for and against the project. Many of the opponents said they fear fouling the state’s wetlands.

How is that the case? Modern pipelines built of high-quality metals and continuously electronically monitored are arguably safer than the older transmission lines, and costs would be reduced for refineries in Louisiana’s petrochemical corridor.

The Bayou Bridge project is being jointly pursued by subsidiaries of Phillips 66, Sunoco Logistics and Energy Transfer Partners, all three of which have a stake in the Dakota Access pipeline, where controversies raged when tribal groups opposed its path.

We see another pipeline not as a new burden but a safer alternative to moving crude oil with trucks, trains or barges.

It’s a $750 million project that has already boosted the Baton Rouge economy with purchase of pipe. As is typical with these projects, there would be few permanent jobs - maybe a dozen, because monitoring of the pipeline’s operation and safety can now be done electronically. But more than 2,000 construction jobs would be generated by this project.

Because Bayou Bridge’s path involves a small part of the state’s Coastal Zone - in Assumption and St. James parishes - a second hearing is Feb. 8 in Napoleonville for a permit from the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources.

Again, we do not see any compelling reason for this project to be blocked.

Unless one is reflexively opposed to fossil fuel consumption, the rational discussion of this pipeline is based on safety of operation and responsible construction during its path. State agencies and the Corps have a lot of experience with pipelines in Louisiana; as is usual in these cases, the project cost includes environmental mitigation for any loss to wetlands.

The Atchafalaya Basin is one of Louisiana’s crown jewels. Much damage was done to it over decades, not only for energy production but the clearing of wetlands for farmland. Today, there are not only vastly better construction techniques but the process is overseen with a lively appreciation by regulators, businesses and the public of the value and importance of the basin.

Louisiana can use the new jobs, both from construction of the new pipeline and its support of the economy of our state’s vast petrochemical corridors along the Mississippi and Calcasieu rivers.

Online: https://www.theadvocate.com/

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