In The News › Mayor Landrieu blasts Louisiana’s tax laws, calls for New Orleans to get bigger cut

Mayor Landrieu blasts Louisiana’s tax laws, calls for New Orleans to get bigger cut

By Richard Rainey | The Times-Picayune

June 25, 2014

Mayor Mitch Landrieu has renewed his attack on Louisiana’s tax laws, saying they have been “robbing New Orleans blind for years” by shorting the city its fair share of public dollars that flow from big-ticket events like the Super Bowl.

“I started to notice a new topic of conversation at the community meetings that I go to throughout the city,” he said Wednesday (June 25). “How did the city invest the Super Bowl money? Why wasn’t the mayor using what was surely tens of billions of dollars in Super Bowl money to fix the streets? Seemed like a logical question. But here’s the truth: Most of the benefit went to others and to the state.”

Answering an annual invitation to address supporters of the watchdog Bureau of Governmental Research, Landrieu used the city’s tense relationship with Baton Rouge to frame what he described as a fiscal crisis waiting just beyond the next hill.

It’s an argument he has repeated before:

Federal orders to reform the city jail and police department, coupled with City Hall’s court-ordered debt to its firefighters’ pension fund could add up to a new, $40 million annual bill on top of what it takes to already run the government. And revenue from state-built venues like the Ernest N. Morial Center, Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the Smoothie King Center never reaches city coffers, despite New Orleans providing all the public services and infrastructure to those buildings and their crowds.

The Super Bowl in 2013, Landrieu said, brought that disparity into sharp relief.

“Even though the Super Bowl is a multimillion-dollar event, this city’s general fund, your bank account, only netted $500,000, barely breaking even for the army of police, fire, EMS, sanitation, public works, permitting and other city employees who work day in and day out to make sure everything went off without a hitch,” he said.

From that point, Landrieu worked to paint an image of a city at a crossroads. He revisited accomplishments of his first term – cleaning up contracting laws, curbing city credit cards and take-home cars, reorganizing the Taxicab Bureau, improving tax-collection efforts before launching into some of his administration’s recent shortcomings. The Legislature had thwarted his push for an 80-cent sales tax on tobacco products, for upping the tax on hotel and motel rooms, for creating a taxing district to catch revenue from future developments along the riverfront. Voters shot down a proposal for a parcel fee in the French Quarter.

Now a month into his second term, Landrieu again said New Orleans must find more money somewhere to avoid deeper cuts.

“Something needs to change. We need to cut loose,” he said. “We need to get the state out of the way, realign powers so New Orleans has the resources that we need to stand on our own two feet.”

Landrieu admitted he didn’t have a clear plan to successfully convince the state to loosen its grip on its own purse strings. But he did lay out three of his goals for the next year, in varying degrees of detail:

1. Invest in growth. New Orleans’ tax base jumped 9.6 percent in the last year as new residents flowed in, Landrieu said. But the population is still not where it was nine years ago, before the federal levees failed during Hurricane Katrina. And even that density then was a far cry from the population of the city’s mid-century heyday. Growing the city needs to be a priority, he said.

2. Convince voters to let him spend $7.5 million in tax money dedicated to the city’s Law Enforcement Taxing District for capital improvements on operations at Orleans Parish Prison instead. The mayor is locked in argument with Sheriff Marlin Gusman over how to pay for a new city lockup and reform the criminal justice system from the inside, out.

3. Pass a new 10-mill property tax hike for police and fire protection services. The Legislature let a constitutional amendment appear on the Nov. 4 ballot that could clear the way for the City Council to then ask New Orleans voters to consider paying as much as $30 million more a year for safety services.

“So here are the questions: What do we want to pay for? How do we want to pay for it?” Landrieu said. “These same questions are asked every night by families that come together at the kitchen table across the city to find ways to balance their checkbooks to make ends meet.”

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