Money should not be taken from tourism for infrastructure needs: Billy Nungesser

By Julia O'Donoghue

Source: | The Times-Picayune

January 16, 2019

Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser doesn’t think New Orleans hotel tax revenue should be redirected from state marketing, tourism and sports-related organizations to deal with the city’s drainage issues.

His perspective, which he shared with the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday (Jan. 14), puts him at odds with Mayor LaToya Cantrell, who is seeking more revenue to make sure the city doesn’t flood as often, but in line with several state level officials, including Gov. John Bel Edwards and Senate President John Alario, the state’s most powerful legislator.

“I don’t think the answer is taking tourism money,” said Nungesser, a Republican whose oversees Louisiana’s public marketing and tourism funding. “I don’t think taking their money solves anything.”

Cantrell doesn’t hold much leverage over the hotel taxes. They are enacted at the state level, where Alario and Edwards hold a tremendous amount of sway.

Nungesser said other areas have experienced problems after they cut state support for tourism. He specifically mentioned Denver, which he said saw a drop in visitors when it cut down on the money it pumped into advertising and other programs meant to attract tourists.

Still, sections of New Orleans have flooded badly over the past two years because the city’s drainage system was overwhelmed. Cantrell thinks more of the state taxes collected in the city need to be allocated to deal with its problems, including its water system that has seen several boil advisories in recent years.

In all, eight entities take a cut of revenues from several hotel taxes and assessments in New Orleans, which in recent years have generated upwards of $150 million, according a | The Times-Picayune review of audits and a 2015 report from the Bureau of Governmental Research.

Among the top recipients are the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, which runs the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and other local sports and entertainment venues, and the Ernest N. Morial Exhibition Hall Authority, which oversees the city’s convention center. They collected roughly $50.4 million and $47.1 million, respectively, during fiscal year 2017, according to state audits.

The money has been used primarily for Superdome upgrades, the Morial New Orleans Convention Center and advertising New Orleans to worldwide travelers, according to state officials. Still, the convention center is sitting on large reserves and sometimes uses that money to support local projects it deems worthy, including the deployment of state police in the French Quarter.

Instead of taking existing hotel tax revenue, tourism industry leaders in New Orleans, anxious not to be at odds with Cantrell, have proposed raising the sales tax in New Orleans to generate more money for drainage. Cantrell said the additional tax proposed wouldn’t be enough to deal with the problem.

Nungesser wondered whether any federal recovery money New Orleans received after Hurricane Katrina could be redirected by Cantrell to deal with the city’s drainage issues. Some did go toward that purpose but much of it is already earmarked for other causes, including repairing badly damaged roads.

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