Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:
The Courier of Houma on the state budget:
The state's budget problems are well-documented and persistent.
For years now, the state's top officials have continued to kick the can down the road, plugging budget deficits with one-time money and putting off the difficult decisions about where and how to cut spending.
Now, the problem is close to crisis stage.
Yet again, the state is facing midyear budget cuts that will have to be made to keep from incurring debt.
And later this year, the governor and Legislature will once again be forced to cut from next year's budget to accommodate decreased state revenue.
The state Constitution gives our officials little flexibility in making cuts. It protects most of the budget areas from cuts. The notable and unfortunate exceptions are in health care and higher education.
The Constitution is in dire need of correction.
The state's governing document should leave the difficult budget decisions to state officials, who are accountable to the voters for those decisions. Deciding ahead of time that only health care and higher education are areas that can be cut makes no sense and, in the long run, works directly against the interests of the state.
One place where cuts could and should be made is to the state's consulting contracts. That is a part of the budget that is rife with waste and abuse, but one that officials have been reluctant to address — even in times of dire economic pressure.
Now must be different.
Louisiana's political establishment must be willing to look at all options, including making cuts to contracts.
That is also a place where Gov. John Bel Edwards can create a marked distinction from his predecessor, Bobby Jindal.
Jindal fought repeatedly against legislative attempts to rein in the contracts and use the savings to make up some of the cuts that have been forced onto higher education.
State Rep. Dee Richard, a Thibodaux independent, and state Treasurer John Kennedy have worked together in the past to guide this good and timely idea through the Legislature.
Last year, Richard finally succeeded in securing Jindal's signature on a compromise version of his bill, a measure that at least introduces more accountability into the process of spending.
Now, the challenge for Richard and his colleagues in Baton Rouge will be to continue on the path toward reforming a system in desperate need of reform.
Edwards has signaled a willingness to consider all reasonable approaches to the budget woes, and that is a welcome attitude as he takes over as governor.
Before giving too much attention to tax increases, though, the governor and Legislature owe it to Louisiana to fully explore the ways they can cut wasteful spending.
Editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper, not of any individual.
The Advocate on the economic and social impact of oil:
With the release of Iranian oil into the markets, there is a new global panic about oil prices.
The former Persia was a longtime source of oil production, but the militant Islamists in charge of the country made it a pariah through support of terrorism and through its potential to develop nuclear weapons. While we hope for the best with a new international agreement on arms control, more oil on the market is probably not what Louisiana's energy producers need right now.
More oil on the world markets raises fears that the price per barrel will tumble to $20, a low that hasn't been seen in decades.
The impact on both state and local revenue has been substantial here in Louisiana.
In November, retail sales in Lafayette Parish — a national center for oil production and oilfield services — fell more than 7 percent compared with the same month in 2014. It's the eighth consecutive month that sales were down.
Those are the kind of numbers that cannot help but worry newly elected Mayor-President Joel Robideaux and the council, but at the state level, there are similar worries for Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Legislature. The budget forecast is based on a now-unreasonable $48 barrel price.
That's trouble, although not as bad as the mid-1980s when oil prices collapsed and more than 40 percent of the state budget was dependent on oil revenue. It's still a serious impact.
"While we have a record low rig count, historic low permitting, and have lost around 9,000 jobs in Louisiana, we are just one of many states that have felt the impact of this decline," notes Don Briggs, head of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association. "We are not in this fight alone."
Briggs has seen it all in a long career in the industry as participant and lobbyist for oil and gas firms.
There's nowhere to go but up from here, he advised industry-watchers recently.
"While the oil and gas industry has taken a hit on the nose, our people are some the most resilient people in the workforce. These men and women are used to rain, sleet, snow and lightning. The job must go on for them," he wrote.
The long term obviously demands energy for a growing national and global economic future. "We have been drilling wells in this state since the early 1900s," Briggs said. "We will not be stopping anytime soon."
This not just whistling past the graveyard, even as the market processes the impacts of new sources of oil — via fracking wells in the United States — or old sources, such as the reopening of oil reserves in Iran. Our energy industry is going through tough times, and that has a substantial economic and social impact in Louisiana, but we're confident for the longer term that energy demand will rise again, as will Louisiana's oil patch.
The Town Talk on planting trees:
While the official national holiday isn't until April 29, Louisiana gets a jump on the rest of the nation by celebrating Arbor Day this Friday. The Louisiana Forestry Association will celebrate by giving away 1,000 tree seedlings to the public in a drive-thru distribution on Friday morning in Alexandria.
The giveaway will be from 7 to 9 a.m. at the LFA office at 2316 S. MacArthur Drive, across the highway from Albertsons. It will feature 500 red maples and 500 cherrybark oaks. The giveaway is limited to the supply on hand. The seedlings, donated by ArborGen Nursery, were bagged by the clients at The ARC Rapides (also known as John Eskew Training Center) and are tagged with planting instructions.
Arbor Day started in 1872 in Nebraska based on a push by J. Sterling Morton, a pioneer who moved to Nebraska only to find that the area had very few natural trees. An avid nature lover, Morton encouraged others to plant trees not only for their scenic beauty, but for practical reasons such as serving as wind breaks on the wide open plains. The original Arbor Day was celebrated in April, and the national holiday follows suit. However, April isn't always the best month to plant trees, which is why the date often varies. Louisiana and Florida are celebrating Friday, while California will hold it's event in March. New England states Maine and Vermont will wait until May. North Carolina's event is in March, while South Carolina celebrates in December.
We thank the Louisiana Forestry Association for giving away the seedlings, and we encourage everyone to take advantage of the opportunity to plant a tree. Forestry and the timber industry are major components of our local economy. According to the LSU AgCenter, forests cover about 50 percent of Louisiana's land area, making it the state's most common land use. Timber is historically the state's top crop, with more than 990 million board feet of sawtimber and 6.3 million cords of timber harvested in 2013 But, like any other resource, it is important to properly manage trees, and that means replanting.
While Morton gets credit for the start of Arbor Day, Central Louisiana has a historic connection to the significance of reforestation and planting trees in Caroline Dorman, a world-renowned naturalist, author, artist and the first woman to be hired in the United States Forest Service. The Louisiana native is the namesake of the junior high school in Woodworth.
Dorman is best known for her efforts to preserve the longleaf pine and the creation of Kisatchie National Forest.
The majority of the holidays we celebrate commemorate something from our past, such as Martin Luther King's birthday on Monday, or religious holidays. Arbor Day is different in that it reflects a hope for the future. The trees planted on Arbor Day show a concern for future generations, who will benefit from the new tree.
So, we encourage everyone to take advantage of this annual opportunity to plant a tree this weekend. By doing so, you'll help beautify our community and you'll be leaving a gift for future generations.