NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Mayor LaToya Cantrell spent nine minutes answering questions about a Lee Zurik Investigation that uncovered her and her husband’s taxes that have not been properly filed in eight of the last nine years.
The mayor provided little detail Friday (Jan. 31) about why she owes the money, around $95,000, but was adamant it would not affect how she runs the city.
“Actually, most is associated with fines and penalties it’s been an ongoing issue and a tax attorney has been secured to help my husband and I get to a settlement and therefore pay,” Cantrell said at a press conference about Sewerage and Water Board improvements.
The mayor said the discrepancy has nothing to do with reporting. She said it has been up to date.
“It’s about the penalties and fines associated with what’s owed and so there’s been some discrepancies that we, one needed to hire a tax attorney to help us move through that, and reach a settlement that we will pay,” Cantrell said.
FOX 8 broke the story Thursday (Jan. 30) of Cantrell’s latest tax liens filed in December 2019 and January 2020. The documents from the Internal Revenue Service filed with the Orleans Civil District Court on Cantrell’s Broadmoor home, reflect the couple is not paying their fair share in taxes.
The phrase ‘fair share’ has been central to the Cantrell administration. It has its own webpage on the city’s website, has its own hashtag on social media and is a mantra used by the mayor in several initiatives. Cantrell even used it in describing a FOX 8 Lee Zurik Investigation in 2019 where it was uncovered businesses and individuals owed the city thousands in unpaid traffic tickets.
“Across the board, New Orleans needs to get her fair share and we’re just seeing too many examples of where this isn’t taking place," Cantrell said following the 2019 investigation.
Dillard University Public Policy Professor, Dr. Robert Collins, said having such a stance on fair share and not paying your fair share could not sit well with voters.
“It’s the danger of the voters considering you hypocritical as a public official -- it’s holding yourself to a different standard than you hold the voters,” Collins said.
In the press conference on Friday, Cantrell said her tax troubles actually align her more with the people of New Orleans.
“I’m more aligned to the citizens that I represent who are in no way free of challenges," Cantrell said. "People are dealing with a lot and I am one of them.”
But records with the State Ethics Board show the Cantrells earn more than most New Orleanians earn in a year -- the Mayor making $138,000 according to her financial disclosure form and her husband, attorney Jason Cantrell, reporting making more than $100,000.
“She is a high-earning individual, she earns six figures, her husband earns six figures. Most of the citizens of the City of New Orleans don’t earn near that kind of money, so I think that people are going to wonder -- these two individuals that both earn in the six figures and they can’t handle their taxes?" Collins said. “I mean we make anywhere near that, but we have to struggle to handle our taxes -- it makes the voters feel that perhaps she’s not holding her own family to the same standard.”
We still do not know why the IRS claims the Cantrells did not pay the proper amount of taxes. The mayor would not provide details and would not say how much of the $95,000 is penalties. She did say she disputes the agency’s figures.
“That’s so complicated. Part of what I talked about the $60,000 that was paid and credited to our account many months later that therefore allowed fines and penalties to accrue on debt that was actually paid,” Cantrell explained. “So it’s complicated, as these issues tend to be and so I’m working through them with a tax attorney to settle this matter and we will do that accordingly because it is a personal issue.”
Despite it being a personal issue, the mayor is responsible for a $720 million budget which fuels the operation of a city of nearly 400,000 people. The mayor told FOX 8′s Lee Zurik, New Orleanians should not worry about her ability to run the city and its finances.
“Well I think it’s a big stretch to say what I can and cannot handle -- particularly if you do not know the issues -- so passing judgment, I would say take a step back from that," Cantrell said. “But in regards to my work as mayor, judge me on my work.
“I haven’t let people down, [and] I will not. I’ll continue to deliver [like I have] not only as mayor but as a city councilwoman and as a community leader -- delivering consistently for the City of New Orleans. So, I’ll continue to do that -- thank you for your concern," she told Zurik.