On the Ballot

New Orleans mayor threatens layoffs if tax changes fail

By Paul Murphy

Source: WWL-TV

December 4, 2020

NEW ORLEANS — Facing significant opposition to her proposed cut to public libraries and to separate tax increases for infrastructure and economic development, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Friday that if three propositions on Saturday’s ballot fail, she may have to lay off city workers.

“These propositions are built into our 2021 budget,” Cantrell said. “So, clearly if they don’t pass, I have to figure out how to fill that gap which could be done by way of moving from furloughs to layoffs.”

If voters reject Propositions 1 and 3, the city would miss out on an estimated $1 million in additional tax revenue for maintenance for city equipment and infrastructure and about $6 million to $6.5 million more for job training and economic development.

But if voters reject Proposition 2, a proposed tax cut that would reduce dedicated money for public libraries by 40 percent, it would actually bring about $7.5 million more into the library system for 2021 before the current library tax expires.

All three propositions are facing opposition by a major government watchdog group, the Bureau of Governmental Research. But a flyer sent to voters this week urging them to vote yes on Proposition 2 actually quotes BGR praising a portion of Cantrell’s plan to invest in early childhood education, making it seem as if BGR backs the whole proposal.

And the United Way of Southeast Louisiana, which is advocating for Proposition 2, received major pushback from several groups Friday that said they were listed as community supporters without approval.

Greater New Orleans Inc., Propeller and the New Orleans Arts Education Alliance were among the groups that were removed Friday from the United Way’s list of supporters for Proposition 2.

GNO Inc.’s Michael Hecht said his group never took a formal position on the issue, even though it was listed as a supporter Friday morning. GNO Inc. was removed from the list Friday afternoon.

Arts Education Alliance Director Celeste Kee said she signed on to support the proposal, which includes dedicated funding for early childhood education, before the Cantrell administration decided to slash the library budget.

“Since I don’t support that decision and was unsure when and why it was made, I asked to be removed (from the list of supporters),” Kee said.

Opponents have criticized the slapdash way the cuts to libraries and tax increases for infrastructure and economic development have been announced. BGR says the city has not yet articulated detailed enough plans for the proposals.

“Even though they have the potential to address compelling needs, the voters don’t have enough information to understand exactly how the city would go about doing that,” BGR Vice President Stephen Stuart said.

Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montano responded that the city does have a plan.

“It’s not arbitrary,” Montano said. “It’s not without plan. It not without thoughtfulness.”

But asked at a news conference earlier this week if he had any written plan in place on how to operate the libraries with $7.5 million less in tax revenues, Library Director Gabriel Morley said he did not.

Groups opposing Proposition 2 accuse the city of spreading misinformation. For instance, the same flyer that quotes BGR as if it supports the proposition also says the New Orleans Public Library backs it with a quote saying, “If Proposition 2 fails, the library will face a 50% funding cut.”

But that would only happen if nothing is done next year to replace the current library tax that expires at the end of 2021. And the statement ignores the fact that approving Proposition 2 would cut nearly as much from the libraries as letting the current tax expire.

What’s more, the New Orleans Public Library board voted last month to ask the city to keep the library tax millage at its current rate, not the reduction proposed in Proposition 2. Library board member Andrea Neighbours said at the last board meeting, “I hope the voters kill it.”

But Montano said the need to put more money into certain areas, especially job training with 44,000 unemployed or underemployed, is dire during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cantrell said the needs are critical.

“No, they’re not sexy,” Cantrell said. “No, they’re not. They are critical to the viability of and sustainability of the city of New Orleans.”

Proposition 1 would increase and combine two existing property taxes for capital improvements and streets and traffic signals.

Proposition 2 would cut money for libraries and redirect about $1.5 million a year to early childhood education, through an existing program called City Seats.

Proposition 3 would split up an existing property tax dedicated to housing and economic development, replacing it with two separate taxes, one for economic development and another for housing and blight alleviation.

If the tax propositions pass on Saturday, the changes to the taxes would go into effect Jan. 1.

Orleans Parish Tax Propositions:

  • Proposition 1 (Infrastructure and maintenance)
    This proposition would replace a 1.77-mill tax for streets and traffic signals and a 0.56-mill tax for capital projects with a single 2.619-mill tax for streets, drainage, public facilities, vehicles and equipment.
  • Proposition 2 (Libraries and early childhood education)
    This proposition would replace a 2.58-mill tax for libraries with a single 0.987-mill tax for libraries and early childhood education.
  • Proposition 3 (Housing and economic development)
    This proposition would replace a single 0.91-mill tax for housing and economic development with two separate taxes – a 1.05-mill tax for housing and a 1.164-mill tax for economic development.
  • French Quarter Public safety Tax renewal (only French Quarter voters)

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