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|Reform faces challenges|
The turmoil in global stock markets has brought a striking reminder of how connected the planet has become ó and the degree to which even regional economies must now function on a world stage
That is a particularly useful thing to keep in mind in Louisiana, which will be able to succeed not only through its ability to compete with Mississippi or Texas, but with markets around the globe
That reality underscores the need to continue efforts to reform Louisiana's education, health care and transportation systems. We are gratified that Blueprint Louisiana has pledged to continue the fight for reform, although we know that the hardest work in changing Louisiana for the better still lies ahead.
Formed in 2006 by some of the stateís most influential business and civic leaders, Blueprint crafted an agenda for change that included many of the usual good government prescriptions for what ails the state: tougher ethics laws to discourage corruption, along with significant changes in public education, health care and transportation policy.
"Certainly, Louisiana had experienced its share of past reform efforts that never quite seemed to have the staying power required to produce significant accomplishments," the organization noted in a recent briefing on its agenda.
Even so, Blueprint leaders are citing progress as they prepare for another year of pressing their Blueprint Agenda.
Gov. Bobby Jindal steered an ethics package through the Legislature that included more stringent financial reporting requirements for lawmakers and statewide elected officials, but that was followed by the Legislature's approval of a huge pay raise for its members. Jindal said he wouldn't veto the raise, but eventually nixed it after a public outcry against the proposal. The issue seemed another depressing example of business as usual in Louisiana.
But in a recent meeting with Advocate reporters and editors, Blueprint Chairman Sean Reilly took a glass-half-full view of reform efforts in Louisiana.
"We believe that in spite of the wake of the pay raise vote, and some of the attending press, that some good was done" at the Capitol, Reilly said.
In addition to citing the new ethics laws passed by the Legislature, Blueprintís latest briefing also points toward positive recent steps to expand access to Pre-K, better prepare high school students for work or college, strengthen accountability in state health-care spending, dedicate more money to transportation, and beef up spending on coastal restoration
Big challenges remain. Without sufficient resources and manpower for enforcement, Louisiana's new ethics laws could prove a paper tiger. There are also legitimate concerns about whether some language in the recently approved legislation could make ethics enforcement harder, not easier.
Louisianaís pre-K program, LA4, needs more money to serve all of the students who are eligible to enroll. The state's transportation needs still dramatically outpace the money budgeted to address them.
Meanwhile, reforming the state's health-care system, which includes a network of charity hospitals with powerful constituencies for the status quo, could be a battle royal in the Legislature next year.
The prospect that state revenues are experiencing the end of the post-Katrina boom could also sharpen the tension among competing interests at the Capitol.
Those challenges suggest that Blueprint Louisiana still has much work to do.
We hope Blueprint's presence on the public affairs front also inspires more rank-and-file residents to get involved in reform efforts for Louisiana.
If the ultimately successful backlash against the legislative pay raise proved anything, itís that the public can be a powerful voice for constructive change, but only when voters make their voices heard.
--The (Baton Rouge) Advocate
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