State lawmakers consider N.O.-specific tax hike bills

With the city facing huge budget hits for the consent decrees and as much as $17.5 million for the firefighters' pension fund, officials hope state lawmakers will pass three New Orleans-specific tax hike measures to help pay for it all.

That's just the first step, as voters would ultimately decide.

"All of these proposals in Baton Rouge being discussed really are designed to do one simple thing, which is to give the City Council and the mayor options that they can present to the voters of New Orleans," said Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin.

A plan to double the property taxes dedicated to fire and police protection is now heading to the Senate Finance Committee.

On Wednesday, the full House is expected to consider a 1.75 percent increase in hotel / motel occupancy taxes, while an 80-cent spike in tobacco tax is scheduled to go before a House committee.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu is pushing the ideas in the face of the looming budget hits.

"(The mayor's) larger view on this is that we have a citywide challenge and every part of the city, including the tourism industry, needs to work with us to be able to help us address the best way the challenges we face," Kopplin said.

Tourism officials vow to help with the issues, but on Tuesday, N.O. Convention & Visitors Bureau CEO Steve Perry spoke out against the hotel / motel tax.

Perry said the tourism industry wants to assist in creating new business and cultural opportunities, sparking new jobs and helping to find answers related to the public safety challenges, but not through a spike in the occupancy tax.

"The one way we can't do that is becoming, along with New York, the most heavily taxed city in the country to visit. Then folks aren't going to come," Perry said.

"It does create some tension between traditional allies of the mayor, but I would say that's a temporary tension," said political analyst Silas Lee, Ph.D.

Lee said if the measures pass in Baton Rouge, it will be interesting to see how voters would respond - especially when it comes to the property tax proposal.

"Voters are very concerned about public safety and definitely fire protection," Lee said. "Bottom line, no property tax is easy, and you must convince voters as to the need of it and the fact that the resources will be used judiciously and dedicated to a specific purpose."

Kopplin said if the measures pass through the Legislature, they would likely go before city voters in November. Voters statewide would have to approve the police and fire millage hikes, because that measure requires a constitutional amendment.

Kopplin said the Orleans Parish Prison consent decree could end up costing the city as much as $22 million per year, but that's the maximum. It could also cost far less.

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