Mayor Cantrell goes before state lawmakers on legislation to help N.O. fund infrastructure projects

Lawmakers debate New Orleans tourism money

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Two bills that would redirect some hotel tax revenues to help the city of New Orleans fund major infrastructure projects advanced out of a state legislative committee after Mayor Latoya Cantrell testified before state legislators.

“I have boil water advisories that can come at any given time. I have 111-year-old pipes that can burst again at any given time,” Cantrell said of issues at the Sewerage and Water Board.

Cantrell wants millions in upfront cash and ongoing funds to tackle problems at the troubled Sewerage and Water Board, as well as street projects and other infrastructure needs.

"This isn’t just about Sewerage and Water Board, I’m looking at this holistically, that’s how we’re going to solve this problem in the city. The can has been kicked and kicked and kicked,” Cantrell stated to state legislators who sit on the committee.

The House Ways and Means Committee eventually advanced two bills filed by Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans.

One of the bills headed to the full House would allow the city’s government to get some of the tax revenue currently generated from a self-assessment tax by city hotels which is passed on to their patrons.

"And what it would do is, it would take the 1.75-percent self-assessment, it would keep it as a voluntary self-assessment, it would reduce it to 1.5 [percent], so it would be a cap of 1.5 [percent]…and then the .25 [percent] would kind of move over to the city’s column and the city would be able to assess a .25. The city’s portion would have to go to a vote of the people, so the people would have to approve this, or it doesn’t happen and that’s what the amendment would do,” said Abramson.

The other bill affects the convention center.

For weeks, leaders of local tourism entities have been negotiating with city hall in hopes of striking a deal.

"We do want to continue to work to get to where we need to be in the way of one-time dollars and recurring revenue for all of our benefit. These are real needs and we're committed to helping find solutions,” said Melvin Rodrigue, President of the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center Exhibition Hall Authority.

Rodrigue said the convention center has some expensive projects underway itself.

And Stephen Perry, who leads New Orleans & Company, again appeared before the committee to push back against the legislation.

"If this bill passes you know what’s going to happen? You guys are going to have to figure a way to absorb millions of dollars of costs that we will no longer be able to pay for, for example, in the city of New Orleans, our Essence [Festival] contribution goes away. This is where we pay it from. Bayou Classic, this is the source of those funds, comes out of these dollars that we are privately putting up,” Perry said.

In reference to Perry’s opposition to the bills that Cantrell is backing, the mayor told the committee, "I will call him my partner, Steve Perry, and will say in listening to some of those things you know, ole Eddie Murphy would say in playing Shrek, you cut me deep Shrek, you cut me real deep just now.”

Tourism leaders said they are still trying to reach a deal with the city.

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