Editorial Roundup: Louisiana
Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:
The Houma Courier on what to hope for in 2020:
The new year begins Wednesday, and here are three things we’d like to see happen before it ends:
- MORE LOCAL JOBS
Terrebonne and Lafourche are still struggling from an offshore oil bust that in the summer of 2020 will have lasted six years. That’s a long time, especially for the 25,000 people who have lost jobs since the bust began.
Turning around an economy so dependent on oil, for so long, will also take time. And it will take contributions from lots of individuals, groups and institutions.
But six years into this disaster, it’s well past time for residents to demand action and accountability from some of the institutions whose main function is to encourage jobs and a healthy economy. And that means asking not only what those institutions, and the people who run them, are doing about it but what concrete results -- or at least progress toward those results -- they have to show for their efforts.
The most obvious are the Terrebonne Economic Development Authority and the Thibodaux-based South Louisiana Economic Council. Both receive tax money to support their missions, and residents are justified in asking what those tax dollars have produced in the way of jobs. Though it’s not their main mission, the Terrebonne and Lafourche parish councils and parish presidents play a role. So do elected state legislators and members of Congress.
After six years, Terrebonne and Lafourche need more than lofty plans, long-term goals or incremental progress. They need something that will really move the needle economically. They need lots of good jobs quickly.
- REVERSE OUTMIGRATION
For the past few years, census estimates show more people have been leaving than coming to Terrebonne and Lafourche. The same is true for Louisiana as a whole.
Studies have also shown Louisiana is losing more of its brightest, college-educated young adults than almost every other state, a trend many refer to as a “brain drain.”
To our knowledge, no one is examining what specifically is causing this problem locally and taking responsibility for reversing the trend. And statewide, though some groups and government officials have pledged to do it, what’s really needed is a focused plan with measurable goals and someone who will take responsibility for getting the job done.
- NO HURRICANES
The Advocate on Loyola University being taking off financial probation:
It’s been a challenging decade for leaders at Loyola University New Orleans, who have been intensely focused on fixing the financial problems that first surfaced in 2012. The Uptown New Orleans school turned a major corner recently when it was taken off temporary financial probation by its regional accrediting agency.
The clean bill of fiscal health from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges came after the university spent a year under conditional sanction for failing to meet two key benchmarks: having sound financial resources and managing those resources responsibly. The designation was a black mark on the university’s public image. A lack of accreditation can prevent schools from offering certain degrees, receiving some federal grants and providing low-interest student loans.
The commission’s decision is just one sign that things at Loyola are looking up, following a downturn prompted by an unexpected enrollment drop in 2013, which led to a $25 million deficit. The school responded by dipping into the endowment, cutting spending, and laying off employees. In 2016, it brought in the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. to comb through the budget. Last year, after two years on watch, accreditors placed the school on probation because it didn’t pass a balanced budget in 2018; university officials said meeting that benchmark would have forced even deeper cuts, which they weren’t willing to make.
But there’ve also been plenty of positive developments in the last few years, from better recruitment, to a successful $101 million fundraising drive, to the hiring of a dynamic new president, Tania Tetlow, the first woman and first layperson to lead the Jesuit institution.
The proof is in the numbers. Loyola’s Fiscal 2019 budget is not only balanced but carries a $2.4 million operating surplus. Total enrollment for undergraduate and graduate students has increased from 3,836 four years ago to 4,422 this year. The incoming first-year class has grown from 612 in 2016 to 822 in 2019.
The school continues to attract a diverse student body, with about 55% of the first-year class made up of students of color. More than 30 % are the first in their families to go to college. While 39% are from Louisiana, the class includes students from 44 state and 16 countries.
This all comes during a challenging time for universities in general, and Loyola is planning for the seismic changes affecting all of higher ed by investing in expanding continuing education and online degree programs.
It’s been a tough stretch, but one that’s also presented the opportunity for university leaders to rethink everything from spending to priorities. The accrediting agency’s all-clear is recognition that hard work has positioned Loyola for a bright and financially sound future.
The (Lake Charles) American Press on riverboat casinos making landfall:
State Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, said study commissions or task forces are often formed by the Legislature as a way to “kill” bills.
Thankfully, this wasn’t the fate of a task force that was looking into whether riverboats should relocate onto dry land. The end result has produced a game-changer for the local gaming market.
The 18 months spent on the task force was one of the most rewarding and transparent times in Johns’ legislative career, he said. Feedback was received from all sides, and recommendations came from that.
The effort eventually helped create Act 469, which allows riverboat casinos to relocate their gaming operations on land within 1,200 feet of the berthing facility. The Legislature approved it in 2018.
Last week, the Louisiana Gaming Control Board approved Eldorado Resorts’ plan to build a $112.7 million casino on land next to the Isle of Capri riverboat casino. Eldorado assumed ownership of the Isle in December 2017.
It’s the first riverboat casino in Louisiana to take advantage of the new measure and a huge step for Southwest Louisiana and the gaming industry statewide.
What does this mean for the property? There will be more than 45,000 additional square feet of gaming space, 117 more slots, seven more tables and a new VIP lounge in the high-limit area.
The Isle of Capri riverboat has been a local gaming destination for years, but upgrading property can only help attract new customers.
The land-based casino’s planned amenities aren’t all about gambling. Jeff Favre, Isle of Capri vice president and general manager, said the property will have seven restaurants, including a Brew Brothers restaurant, noodle bar, food hall and an upgraded steakhouse.
Another unique feature is the restaurants will have lakeside views, something that is lacking with current attractions in the area.
While 22 existing marine-based jobs will be lost, Favre said the land-based casino is projected to increase overall jobs by 9% and generate roughly 300 construction jobs.
The plan set forth by Eldorado and approved by the gaming control board sets the standard for other riverboat casinos looking to relocate onto dry land. Ronnie Jones, board chairman, said he was impressed by the details and scope of the plan.
The new casino could be finished by May 2021.
Moving the Isle’s riverboat operations to land is a good move for the area. It will be interesting to see if riverboats in other markets follow suit.