The Lost Penny

Russel Honoré: Dear New Orleans, this ‘simple’ plan can make sure the city survives the next storm

By Russel L. Honoré

Source: The Advocate

April 29, 2019

America faces a crisis at home more urgent than any before — other than Pearl Harbor and 9/11. That crisis is our crumbling and badly managed infrastructure. Some may call me an alarmist, but I don’t expect many New Orleanians will. They know their city is among the most vulnerable in America.

It’s with these thoughts in my mind that I’ve been following the debate over whether New Orleans should control more of its destiny on infrastructure funding. Here’s my take, and it’s a pretty simple one.

I believe that for every dollar you spend on disaster preparedness, you save $9 in response. For years I’ve used this example to illustrate the case. Your grandmother’s house has a big tree next to it that’s looking all its 200 years. You can cut that tree down tomorrow for $1,000. Or you can wait until after the hurricane hits — and it will cost you $10,000 to remove it. That’s if Grandma is still alive. The answer’s easy. Act now.

If you apply that thinking to New Orleans, it makes all the sense in the world to give the city the financial ability to make smart investments, large and small, to shore up its infrastructure and prepare for the next disaster.

When I read that the City of New Orleans receives 1.5% of the 16.35% tax that appears on visitors’ hotel bills — less than the share of funding that goes to the Superdome, the Morial Convention Center or New Orleans & Co. — I was shocked. That approach may have worked in the old days. But today, in the face of climate change? Our cities need the resources to lead the charge on preparedness and living with water.

This is not meant as a critique of New Orleans’ hospitality and tourism groups. They do very important work. But their slice of tax funding is nearly three times bigger than the budget for the Sewerage & Water Board’s drainage system, and five times as much as the City of New Orleans spends on street repair. That’s just not sustainable.

These are among the reasons the independent and nonpartisan Bureau of Governmental Research argues New Orleans deserves a larger share of the hotel tax.

And they’re the reasons I’m asking you to join me today in calling for New Orleans’ fair share. I’ve got the city stamped on my heart, and I want to see it thrive for another 300 years. Giving the city its fair share is a big step in that direction.

Russel L. Honoré

retired Army lieutenant general

Baton Rouge

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