By Amy L. Glovinsky
President & CEO
Samuel Zemurray Chair in Research Leadership
The Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR) is assembling a new research agenda. This is an ordinary task for us. We do it at predetermined intervals to reset the focus of our research and update our work plan to capture existing and emerging policy issues. We look for topics where our recommendations can appreciably improve the performance of local government in terms of efficiency, effectiveness, accountability and transparency.
We mine our government monitoring database and BGR report library for new topics. Often, our areas of focus reassert themselves over years and decades to create a continuous thread of discussion on which new reports can build. But the extraordinary circumstances we are living and working through right now must inform our usual processes. We are compelled to alter our routine to achieve broader awareness of the opportunity and necessity for our public policy work. As a result, we are intensifying our internal diligence and external outreach. And we are asking for your participation. We want you to think with us about priority research issues BGR should address in the next 18 months, which is the span of the work plan we will adopt.
BGR is a private, nonprofit, independent research organization dedicated to informed public policy making and the effective use of public resources for the improvement of government in the New Orleans metropolitan area. Our research and reporting defines our organization as an objective, nonpartisan voice on local public policy issues. Our policy recommendations have often provided a foundation for better performance by government.
The post-pandemic horizon presents a host of policy issues for local governments, ranging from issues the pandemic caused or exacerbated to issues that called for attention long before. Citizens and policymakers engaging in the hard work of confronting these issues will require reliable information and objective analyses on which they can make decisions. BGR’s unique public service responds precisely to this need.
With this context, let us know your thoughts on how BGR could focus its research for significant impact in the coming months: https://bit.ly/opentonewideas
The following information about our current work plan, including its purpose and the types of topics we research and write about, might spark ideas, and we are hopeful that you will share them with us.
Delivering on Our Current Work Plan
BGR has published 14 reports since launching its current work plan in January 2019. They are part of an online library of more than 200 reports published since 1996.
BGR’s research reports provide facts, background, analysis and recommendations to help government in the greater New Orleans area work better for citizens and businesses. Here is a snapshot of some of the key reports BGR has produced under our current work plan.
- The Lost Penny: An Analysis of the Orleans Parish Hotel Tax Structure, January 2019. This report explained the complex assortment of hotel taxes in New Orleans and compared it to best practices for taxation as well as state and national norms. It found, among other things, that the City of New Orleans’ hotel taxes for general municipal purposes were too low due to the suspension of a 1% tax more than 50 years earlier. The Legislature ended the suspension in 2019, an action that will provide new annual revenue for City and Sewerage & Water Board infrastructure.
- $1 Billion Question Revisited: Updating BGR’s 2015 Analysis of Orleans Parish Tax Revenues, April 2019. As a follow-up to a 2015 BGR report calling for a more optimal allocation of tax revenues in Orleans Parish, this report updated the picture of local taxes and funding priorities to help public officials and citizens align tax dedications with high-priority needs. The report also reviewed progress toward reevaluating tax allocations. BGR reiterated its call for the City of New Orleans to conduct a comprehensive review of tax dedications.
- A Look Back to Plan Ahead: Analyzing Past New Orleans Budgets to Guide Funding Priorities, October 2019. This report analyzed growth in revenues and changes in expenditures in the City of New Orleans’ General Fund from 2010 to 2019 to help identify how budget priorities evolved and why. BGR pointed to ways the City can make better use of existing resources to meet high-priority needs and called for the City to conduct a comprehensive review of the budget for opportunities to cut costs or slow their growth. It also identified specific departments and budget line items that warrant further scrutiny. Further, BGR urged the City to develop a long-term financial plan.
- Assessing the Assessor: Progress on Property Assessment Reform in New Orleans, November 2019. This report evaluated the Orleans Parish Assessor’s Office nearly a decade after voters replaced seven independently elected assessors with a single parishwide office. Among the findings: the single assessor has made strides in some areas important to implementing a model assessment system in New Orleans. BGR also noted, however, that the assessor has made inadequate progress in some fundamental areas, including valuation practices, exemption administration and public transparency.
- Learning Curve: A Guide to Navigating School Funding in New Orleans’ Unified District, March 2020. This report presents a comprehensive explanation of K-12 public school funding in New Orleans less than two years since the unification of the city’s school system under the control of the Orleans Parish School Board and its district, NOLA Public Schools. The report is a guide for citizens, policymakers and others working to ensure fair funding allocations for charter schools and efficient management and oversight of the school system.
- Conventional Wisdom: Pausing the Convention Hotel Deal to Assess the Pandemic’s Impact and Reduce Public Costs, April 2020. Our latest report on the proposed 1,200-room convention headquarters hotel for the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center highlights the need to assess the coronavirus pandemic’s impacts on tourism and conventions, and significantly reduce the public’s nearly $800 million cost over 40 years. The report includes BGR’s pre-pandemic analysis that raises questions about the size and necessity of the proposed public contributions in the tentative deal.
BGR’s research team continues its focus on adding long-term value to the public dialogue on matters that significantly affect citizens and business across the greater New Orleans area. Reports in progress include:
- A re-examination of Sewerage and Water Board governance to understand whether citizens could be better served by different processes or an alternate model.
- An analysis of options to overcome historical problems in the relationship between the Orleans Parish Sheriff and the City of New Orleans in governing and funding the parish jail.
- Development of recommendations for the State Legislature to bring Louisiana’s overly broad tax exemption for nonprofit-owned property in line with national norms to more fairly distribute the tax burden among property owners.
- A review of economic development tax incentives in Orleans, Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes for greater efficiency and effectiveness.
What Research Ideas Does BGR Consider?
We consider all ideas we receive. As mentioned above, some come from our continuous monitoring of public entities in Orleans, Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes. Some topics are an outgrowth of prior reports. Other ideas come to us throughout the year by email or in conversations with concerned citizens and policymakers who attend our public forums.
BGR looks for research ideas in five substantive areas, as shown in the chart:
- General Administration and Structure, which covers issues related to general government functions and organization, such as the performance of the City of New Orleans and the Jefferson and St. Tammany parish governments, the administration of local civil service systems and governmental ethics.
- Infrastructure, which includes streets, water and sewer systems, and flood control and stormwater management.
- Government Finance, which covers issues related to budgeting for municipal operations, assessments, taxation, pensions and contracting.
- Essential Services and Core Systems, which includes systems and services that every community must have to provide quality education, public safety, public transportation and recreation for citizens.
- Public Involvement in the Private Sector, which studies areas in which the public and private sectors come together to serve citizens, businesses and visitors, such as economic development, tourism, conventions and sports, planning and zoning laws, and housing subsidies.
As you might suspect, we receive more research suggestions than we can address. We prioritize projects by evaluating each one based on time sensitivity, the necessity for BGR’s work to inform the public dialogue, and the potential for improved outcomes that will benefit the residents and businesses in the region. Our board of directors ultimately approves the work plan.
The Best Time to Submit Your Ideas is…Now
Please submit ideas for the BGR work plan as soon as you can. Time is of the essence, as we are beginning our update now.
We look forward to hearing from you.
This article is part of BGR’s Perspectives on Public Policy series, which features insights from BGR team members about the organization and its work in the metropolitan New Orleans area.