- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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April 11

Houma Today says the state faces challenges over its infrastructure:

The governors of Louisiana and Mississippi are in agreement: Our states cannot afford to spend more on infrastructure.



The two, Louisiana’s John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, and Mississippi’s Phil Bryant, a Republican, wrote a joint letter to The Advocate newspaper in Baton Rouge in which they respond to a proposal by President Donald Trump.

Trump has said the federal government, which currently picks up 80 percent of the tab for transportation projects it does in conjunction with states, should instead pay 20 percent - with states and localities left to pay 80 percent.

“Since 2012, more than 25 states have addressed their funding issues by modernizing their gas tax structure or rates, and for various reasons, our states have not followed that path; thus, we are dependent on federal support,” the governors wrote. “There are no shortages of examples where an accelerated and streamlined environmental permitting process would result in moving a project from concept to construction in a more efficient and expedited fashion. Therefore, we see value in accelerating the environmental process such that we spend less of our dollars on process and more on actually building and repairing infrastructure our citizens can use in their daily lives.”

They raise an excellent point. When so much money and time has to be spent on the permitting process, the actual projects can be neglected. So they welcomed Trump’s commitment to streamlining the process of applying for and receiving environmental permits.

The permits themselves are necessary to ensure that projects don’t unnecessarily damage precious environmental resources. But they shouldn’t be so onerous that they are obstacles to progress.

The most important point, though, is that both of our states face fiscal difficulties that would make it extremely difficult for use to provide any more money for state-federal projects.

Political efforts to raise gas taxes have faced stiff opposition and public suspicion about whether the increased money will be spent on roads and bridges.

Meanwhile, Trump is suggesting that the federal government spend more dollars on infrastructure, but that they be met with a higher match by the states. If that does go into effect, Louisiana will have to examine once again the possibility of raising more money for that purpose - through an increase in the gas tax or by other means.

That might not be the popular approach, but in a state with so many substandard roads and bridges, this is a critical need whose time has come. How we pay for it will be the critical question moving forward.

Online: http://www.houmatoday.com

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April 8

The American Press says the state needs to be concerns about the lack of students becoming teachers:

Pay, classroom discipline problems and a new law making in difficult to earn job protection are being blamed for a decline in the number of teachers entering the profession. Finding math, science and special education teachers has become especially difficult.

Rep. Larry Bagley, R-Stonewall, a certified elementary school teacher, is author of a resolution that sets up a task force to study the issue. Bagley said one possible solution is to make teaching more lucrative for retired teachers to encourage them to return to the classroom, according to a report in The Advocate.

Education Week magazine last year reported that Alaska had the highest average salary at $77,843. The next nine, in order, are New York, Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Maryland, Illinois and Virginia at $63,493.

Mississippi had the lowest average salary at $42,043. The nine higher states, in order, are Oklahoma, South Dakota, North Carolina, Arizona, West Virginia, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas and Louisiana, $48,587.

Recent teacher strikes and protests have occurred in West Virginia, Arizona and Kentucky. Low pay and benefits caused by dramatic education budget cuts are being blamed for the unrest. Louisiana teachers are facing a similar situation caused by budget deficits that have frozen the $3.7 billion appropriated annually for K-12 education for many of the last 10 years.

Keith Courville, executive director of the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, said high-paying jobs in the petrochemical industry and other places are luring teachers and coaches out of the profession.

Figures from the state Department of Education show that students finishing teacher preparation programs has dropped 18 percent in Louisiana since the 2010-11 school year. College students see the frustrations being experience by those in the profession.

A total of 2,582 teachers, administrators, food workers and others retired in 2017, roughly the same as the three previous years, The Advocate reported. However, the rate spiked in 2012 and 2013 when 3,295 and 3,415, respectively, retired because of new laws toughing tenure (job protection) and annual teacher evaluations.

Legislators who believe state budget cuts are the answer to the state’s financial problems are conveniently ignoring the effect that has on our young people at all education levels.

Online: http://www.americanpress.com

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April 11

The Advocate says there are real consequences of the state’s budget shortfall:

Yet another of the state’s major hospitals says it will have to shut down its public health care arm unless the Legislature comes up with money to fill a looming budget shortfall.

Lafayette General Health’s announcement recently that it is prepared to terminate its lease of the state-owned University Hospital and Clinics raised alarms that indigent care might be eliminated from much of south Louisiana if the Legislature fails to act.

But LGH is hardly alone. Similar notices, required by law and the public-private contracts setting up the partnerships, have been sent out by “partner hospitals” in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

It is hardly a surprise. Gov. John Bel Edwards has said publicly that without action on taxes to replace the sales tax and other levies expiring on June 30, the partner hospitals would have to protect their operations by severing the contracts with the state.

What is different is some of the blunt language from LGH. “Zero funding simply makes it fiscally irresponsible. It actually endangers the future of our organization to stay in this agreement,” said David Callecod, president of Lafayette General.

He called the loss of hundreds of jobs and the suspension of care for thousands of patients an irresponsible path for the state.

Callecod is exactly right.

These are real-world consequences of the tax deadlock.

A special session is the only way to raise revenue this year, and the Legislature already failed in a previous one to fix the deficit - in part because some of the governor’s Democratic allies were not on the same page and helped scuttle a compromise. A second special session is inevitable some time before the July 1 start of the 2019 fiscal year, at which it is hoped that the governor and Legislature can reach some kind of tax accord. After all, the Legislature is not being asked to raise the overall level of taxes, but simply replace in some way the revenues lost by expiring taxes on June 30.

“I’m afraid that if something is not done, we are going to lose a number of these partner hospitals. We’ve already been notified by three of the biggest ones out there,” Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said in an interview.

Hostage-taking is an old tradition in budget debates, but the deadlock - the Democratic governor is a target for state and national Republicans in the 2019 elections - makes this more serious, because of the scope and importance of the public-private hospital partnerships.

Further, the structure of the partnerships, replacing the old charity hospitals, was created by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal. By the nature of the complex operations of hospitals and clinics, the notices from the hospital partners must come early, well before June 30, when the money actually runs out.

This is not a phony crisis. For patients, it’s a real consequence of a budget impasse at the State Capitol.

Online: http://www.theadvocate.com

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