Louisiana editorial roundup


Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

Feb. 16

The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, on watching over Restore Act money:

Despite the dire state of Louisiana's coast, some legislators last spring made an attempt to co-opt Deepwater Horizon oil spill fines for other items in the state budget. They didn't prevail. But the Legislature also refused to give the restoration money constitutional protection and left itself the power to raid it in the future.

As lawmakers prepare for this year's session, conservation groups are worried that there may be another effort to divert money away from the coast. With the state working with a tight budget, they are wise to be vigilant. The oil spill fines simply must be spent on coastal restoration, and Gov. Bobby Jindal and legislative leaders need to ensure that they are.

The loss of Louisiana's coastal wetlands is at a crisis level, and lawmakers ought to understand that. The fine money from BP is the state's best chance to jumpstart its $50 billion, 50-year master plan for coastal reconstruction. And it was a victory last summer when Congress agreed to commit 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines from the BP spill to Gulf Coast states under the Restore Act.

As Louisiana's congressional delegation worked to get the act passed, state legislators were flirting with ways to grab the money for other purposes. U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise intervened, urging lawmakers to abandon those efforts. They did — but only for the moment.

Chris Macaluso, coastal outreach coordinator for the Louisiana Wildlife Federation, warned recently that Louisianians shouldn't relax. "We saw last year attempts to redirect that money. We were able to thwart those efforts," he said. "We're going to have to be tremendously vigilant this legislative session so the Restore money goes where it's supposed to go." ...

Much of the money will be out of the reach of Louisiana lawmakers, fortunately. ...

Scalise put it well last year: "Just as we've made it clear to our colleagues in Congress that the BP fines should not be used for unrelated spending in Washington, the Legislature needs to make it clear that Restore Act funds will not be used for unrelated spending in Baton Rouge." ...

Everyone with power over the Restore Act money — the restoration council, the Jindal administration, the Legislature — must make sure that it is used to repair the coast. And Louisianians should insist that they do.




Feb. 17

The Daily World, Opelousas, La., on tobacco tax legislation:

Gov. Bobby Jindal will be heading in the right direction if he follows through with support of a $1 hike in the state's tobacco tax. It would raise the tax from 36 cents to $1.36, which is still lower than the national average rate of $1.48.

This is a welcome about-face for Jindal. Just two years ago, he opposed renewal of a 4-cent per pack tax on cigarettes.

Anti-smoking groups are applauding the possible tax hike as a measure to reduce smoking rates in the state, especially among teens and younger children.

We agree it's a good move. It's a matter of health and economics.

About 6,500 adult Louisiana residents die from smoking-related illness each year, according to tobaccofreekids.org, a website that lists smoking data for each state. ...

Some say that raising the price of a pack of cigarettes will not affect smoking behavior.

But Andrew Muhl, Louisiana government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said his organization's statistics show that when cigarette prices go up 10 percent, there is a 6.5 percent reduction of smoking in youth consumption and a 2 percent reduction for adults.

Although this new tax, if the Jindal administration continues to support it, will hit smokers in the pocketbook, consider how smoking hits everyone in Louisiana in the pocketbook.

Smoking-related health care costs in Louisiana ring up at $1.47 billion. The cost to Medicaid in Louisiana, which is funded by taxpayers, is $663 million.

A $1 increase in the tax would generate about $223 million in revenue, Muhl said.

If the Jindal administration does push through a cigarette tax, it's not known at this point how the money would be used.

But Muhl said his organization is also working with legislators to introduce a similar bill — and their bill would target health care as the beneficiary of the money the tax would generate. ...

Either way, the tax would be a good thing for Louisiana. We urge the state's legislators to support its introduction and passage in the upcoming legislative session that begins in April.

It would be, at the very least, a means of deterring new generations of young people from getting hooked on this highly addictive product that causes a range of illnesses, from cancer to heart disease to stroke.

And rather than punishing behavior, as some would cast it, the tax would bring new, desperately needed money into the state's coffers.




Feb. 13

The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La., on a GOP lead in a key race in 2014:

With national politicos already looking ahead to the 2014 races for U.S. House and Senate, some of the speculation includes the several states carried handsomely by GOP nominee Mitt Romney last year, and now where Democratic senators face the voters.

One of them, of course, is Louisiana, where U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., seeks re-election. But there are states, surprisingly enough, where President Barack Obama did even worse.

The president barely cracked 40 percent in Louisiana last time, but he didn't even do that well in West Virginia.

And there, Democrats don't even have the power of incumbency in 2014, as five-term Sen. Jay Rockefeller steps down. Shelley Moore Capito, a member of the House, is widely favored, even if some of her fellow Republicans believe her to be too much a part of the "establishment" wing of the party.

She is from a prominent political family, and she has brought home the bacon; ideological purists in the party object to her votes on several major spending issues. But West Virginia groans beneath the public works bestowed on it during the reign of its two long-serving senators, Rockefeller and the late — but legendary — Robert Byrd. Capito's popularity does not seem likely to be damaged by that issue.

The GOP has seen strong Senate candidates damaged by party primary battles, leading to weaker nominees losing to Democrats in states from Delaware to Indiana to Missouri. The Capito race, should she face a primary challenge, might be another but at this point there is reason to call West Virginia a very likely GOP pickup in the Senate in 2014.



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