Does Louisiana’s “Hollywood South” nickname cost more than we can afford?

During March 2013, the office of the Louisiana Legislative Auditor issued the following  press release about its “Tax Credits and Rebates in Louisiana” report:

BATON ROUGE – Mar 25, 2013 – Louisiana’s tax credit and rebate programs resulted in a tax revenue loss of more than $6.13 billion in revenue in the last seven years, according to a study of the programs released Monday by Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office.

The performance audit looked at 44 of the credits that each resulted in a tax revenue loss of at least $1 million for at least one year between the calendar years 2006 and 2011. Auditors said the credits from those 44 programs – 52 percent of the 85 tax credit programs on the books — totaled a revenue reduction of approximately $5.4 billion, with 2011 tax data still incomplete as of October 2012.

The five most expensive tax credits accounted for almost $3.7 billion of the $5.4 billion total for the period studied, or 67 percent of the total revenue loss. The five are:

·  The inventory/property tax exemption for businesses — $1.5 billion.
·  The insurance company premium tax credit — $1.1 billion.
·  The motion picture investor tax credit — $512 million.
·  The credit granted on net income taxes paid to other states — $402 million.
·  The credit for assessments paid to Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp. — $212 million.

While media sources are generally focusing on the $512 million figure noted above [emphasis added] regarding the “Motion Picture Investor Tax Credit,” it is actually one of three separate components of the film tax credit program listed among the 44 “loss leaders” noted in Appendix C of this report:

· The Motion Picture Investor Tax Credit: $511,613,716 (ranked #3 of 44)

· The Motion Picture Infrastructure Tax Credit: $29,561,287 (ranked #20 of 44)

· The Louisiana Motion Picture Incentive Program : $10,561,744 (ranked #29 of 44)

That’s a cumulative total of $551,736,747 over a period of 72 months’ time (or an average of $7,663,010 per month) that is reportedly lost through the program as a whole.

This $551,736,747 figure accounts for nine percent (9%) of the reported total lost of $6.13 billion during the six-year time frame examined in the report — or roughly $1 out of every $11 lost.

(Note, too, that those numbers do not include the much-touted year of 2012 with its 61 projects filmed in New Orleans… I predict that those numbers will reflect even greater losses as hundreds of millions more in uncapped credits and rebates are likely to be reflected in the statistics. If the program continues to operate in this unlimited manner, the notion of a “turning point” from subsidizing Hollywood to Louisiana’s realization of a genuine profit becomes increasingly unlikely.)

The three credits/programs noted in the report are described as follows:

Motion Picture Investor Tax Credit: Louisiana taxpayers that invest in state-certified motion-picture productions can earn a tax credit at the time expenditures are made by a motion picture production company. (This credit in particular features a rebate component, which the report defines as “A rebate is money directly reimbursed by the state to an entity or individual, independent of the tax return process or tax liability.”)

Motion Picture Infrastructure Tax Credit: To provide a credit against corporate income tax for an approved state-certified infrastructure project for a film, video, television, or digital production or postproduction facility. This credit applied to infrastructure projects between July 1, 2005 and December 31, 2008. (While this credit appears to time-bounded/no longer be active, it still earned a spot on the loss list.)

Louisiana Motion Picture Incentive Program: To provide a financial incentive to the film industry in order that the state might compete with other states for filming locations.

It seems that the only guaranteed way to make the big money in “Hollywood South” is to be a so-called “motion picture investor,” given that the tax dollar hemorrhage from that program is a staggering 48 times greater than the losses experienced by the so-called “Louisiana Motion Picture Incentive Program” itself.

And, oh, the hand-wringing that occurred when Governor Jindal proposed the implementation of a $1 million limit on the amount that could be claimed for each actor’s salary by production companies as qualifying expenses when applying for Louisiana film tax credits! (Never mind that this precise limitation already applies to “payroll spent on Louisiana residents,” apparently whether or not they’re in front of the camera.) The governor only wanted to trim one specific part of the program… however, with media coverage regarding this report currently on the rise, I suspect that future proposed cuts may go even deeper.

As noted in this WWL TV story originally broadcast on 3/25/13, Mayor Landrieu’s office has been at work, creating the spin:

“We asked Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration whether the film tax credit program is providing a tangible benefit to the New Orleans economy.

“His adviser on the Cultural Economy said in a statement, ‘The state’s tax incentive program for film has helped New Orleans grow a new industry. We estimate that since 2007, New Orleans has seen more than $2 billion in direct spending from tax credit film projects – money that is spent in and remains in the local economy, as the program intended. Our local film industry is now nationally known, and it supports more than 1,000 full-and part-time jobs. Production companies want to film here because of the tax incentives and numerous related businesses have launched or relocated to New Orleans because of the opportunities that have been created.'”

Unlike the numbers noted in the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s report, the figure of “$2 billion in direct spending” (which is not to be confused with $2 billion in tax revenue generated) is unsubstantiated.

The estimated “1,000 full- and part-time jobs” may not be as statistically significant as the Mayor’s adviser’s statement would like to imply if one considers that the city’s current estimated population is ~370,000, nor is it confirmed if all of these jobs in fact consistently pay a year-round living wage.

While the auditor’s report includes fairly “hard” numbers (verifiable, with the exception of the noted not-yet-complete figures for calendar year 2011), the best we see from proponents of the film tax credit program are nothing more than “soft” or estimated figures that are inherently difficult to verify.

As the WWL story notes, “And without a requirement that the tax credit programs track the return on the investments, the legislative auditor said it’s tough to tell if they’re worth it.”

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CBS’ “The Talk” is first to apply for LA film tax credits for its Super Bowl broadcasts

Earlier this week, Governor Jindal unveiled his plan for revising Louisiana’s taxes. Included in that plan was the implementation of a $1 million limit on the amount that could be claimed for each actor’s salary by production companies as qualifying expenses when applying for Louisiana film tax credits.

While the on-screen talent could be paid a higher salary than this limit, the production would only be allowed to claim a maximum of $1 million for tax credit reimbursement. This means that Louisiana taxpayers would only be on the hook for 30% of that cap, amounting to $300,000 apiece maximum for out-of-state big name stars like Oprah Winfrey, Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis, John Cusack, Nicole Kidman, Tracey Gold, and Edward Furlong (regardless of whatever paycheck they pull down while filming in Louisiana).

Frankly, it makes sense, as this exact limitation already applies to “payroll spent on Louisiana residents (those who maintain a permanent home and spend more than six months each year within the state) working on film sets, as long as the salary does not exceed $1 million.” For our state’s citizens, apparently this cap applies whether or not they’re in front of the camera.

This made me think about the fact that Louisiana was the fifth poorest state in the US in 2012 (falling in after Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, and West Virginia). In that same year, our state spent $231 million from its citizens’ tax dollars to pay for film tax credits. Reining in this unlimited program in any way might honestly be more beneficial than picking up a portion of the paychecks for visiting talent from the “other LA” — especially since this program has reportedly cost our state more than $1 billion since 2002.

Then I wondered, did any of the programs that were broadcast from CBS’ “Super Bowl Park at Jackson Square” during the week leading up to Super Bowl XLVII have the unabashed gall to apply for the Louisiana Film Incentive & Tax Credit Program?

Unfortunately the answer to that question is yes.

The daytime chat show “The Talk” has applied for what amounts to Louisiana taxpayers’ subsidization of its broadcasts from the largest stage occupying Jackson Square during that week-long media frenzy.

Photo by Bernie Murden dated 1/28/13, used with permission.

Today’s email inquiry:

From: Kalen Wright
Date: Wed, Mar 20, 2013 at 12:25 PM
Subject: Question re: Super Bowl filming and the Louisiana Film Tax Credit Program
To: Amanda Hafford

Dear Ms. Hafford:

I have a question regarding the multitude of TV shows and filming projects that occurred in New Orleans during the week of broadcasting occurring as part of the Super Bowl XLVII event.

As you are aware, several TV programs were filmed and broadcast during the week prior to the Super Bowl XLVII game including, but not limited to, the following: the NFL Network, ESPN, the CBS Sports Network, the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, CBS’ “The Talk” TV show, the Super Bowl telecast itself, etc.

Did any of the broadcast/filming productions associated with Super Bowl XLVII apply for and/or receive Louisiana film tax credits? If so, which program(s) and could you please also disclose the amount of the tax credits received?

If possible, I would prefer to receive your reply by email.

Thank you very much for your time, consideration, and assistance.

Respectfully,

Kalen Wright

The following reply was received from Louisiana Film in the office of Louisiana Economic Development:

From: Amanda Hafford
Date: Wed, Mar 20, 2013 at 3:32 PM
Subject: RE: Question re: Super Bowl filming and the Louisiana Film Tax Credit Program
To: Kalen Wright

Hi Kalen,

Of the shows you cite, only “The Talk” has applied to the program. They are in the processing phase of initial certification and have not been issued credits to date.

Best,

Amanda

Amanda L. Hafford
Assistant Director, Louisiana Film
Louisiana Economic Development
http://www.opportunitylouisiana.com

As some might recall, “The Talk” inadvertently offended many New Orleanians during its recent visit to Jackson Square. Now it seems that we’ll all have the honor of picking up a minimum of 30% of the not-yet-disclosed tab for the pleasure of that experience.

How many Mayors does it take to fix a busted streetlight?

Photo by Grace Wilson @GraceLovesNOLA — used with permission.

I’m sensing a recurring trend with regard to our city officials’ modus operandi… Long-overdue sewerage system repairs needed? Pass the cost on to ratepayers’ bills to the tune of a 114% cumulative increase over eight years’ time! Broken streetlights? Hike the Entergy bill $24-36 per year with no clearly articulated and documented plan for implementation or proposed sunset date!

On Tuesday, 1/8/13, the New Orleans City Council’s Public Works Committee convened a single-subject meeting: to hear the initial proposal regarding a requested addition to the city’s Entergy franchise fee. I was relieved that several of our Councilmembers questioned the proposal outright and indicated that this matter requires additional scrutiny.

Areas of particular concern included potential savings to be realized through increased energy efficiency and if such savings could be leveraged to decrease maintenance costs as a recurring revenue stream. Councilmember Susan Guidry also questioned whether this proposed increase to the franchise fee was even legal.

“‘We’ve got a lot of numbers in here,’ council member Stacy Head said, referring to the presentation made Tuesday. ‘But, I’m unable to extract from these numbers exactly what we’re going to do.'” Council President Head also requested that when this matter is discussed before this committee again, the proposal be structured in the manner of a grade school student’s mathematical word problem to best demonstrate the impact of the improvements and long-term savings to be realized. Council President Head and District C Councilmember Kristin Palmer both stated that they’d prefer see a “sunset” provision for the possible increase.

Reportedly Mayor Mitch Landrieu pitched the idea of an increased Entergy franchise fee when he presented his proposed 2013 budget late last year. In a recent interview, he stated, “‘At the end of the day it’s the people of New Orleans who pay for everything, whether you pay it through taxes or Entergy bill,’ said Landrieu. ‘It’s the people of New Orleans who either get the service or don’t have the services.'” The issue of streetlight repairs and maintenance has been a struggle for the Landrieu Administration from the start — the opening gambit in addressing this problem was to award new contracts in 2011, early in the Mayor’s term, when budgetary issues concerning this need were already known to exist.

During the committee meeting last Tuesday, Council President Head was surprised to discover that the recently-approved 2013 budget did not include any allocations for streetlight repairs, replacement, or maintenance. In a carefully neutral manner, she stated, “In our budget we did not allow one dime for the routine maintenance and replacement of ligh tbulbs. This reveals a flaw in our budget process.” It was my impression that her remark was a subtle calling-out of the Administration’s abysmal failure to include maintenance costs for something so obvious.

As I understand it, the Administration submits a budget to the City Council and the Council gets to ask questions and nibble at its edges, but the Administration essentially calls the shots from the get-go. The Council gets to appropriate money to various departments, but the departments — regardless of what they told the Council in their written proposals or during the budget hearings — has total control over the spending once approved.

While the Council appropriates lump sums, the Administration, via its departments, has absolute control after that point, with no reconciliation after the fact. All the Council can do is wring their hands and call the appropriate officials to committee meetings (who seem to sometimes simply ignore such calls); the Council has no means of recourse except to try and reign them in next annual budget session.

The budget for the Department of Public Works was likely submitted by Lt. Col. Mark Jernigan, the Director of Public Works for the City of New Orleans… but under this Administration, it seems that all decisions run through Mayor Landrieu without fail; any delegation of authority is illusory. Accordingly, this would mean that Mayor Landrieu himself is even more responsible than your run-of-the-mill executive with regard to this so-called”flaw” in the budgeting process.

(It was interesting, too, that a City of New Orleans press release regarding streetlight repairs was issued mere minutes prior to the start of the Public Works Committee meeting.)

If our city’s so-called “Cultural Economy” is so profitable, why is our city reportedly broke (without funding available for, oh, consistent ordinance enforcement efforts), resulting in our City’s Administration holding its hand out yet again, demanding more from New Orleanians?

These rate increases, added fees, and tacked-on charges hit those living on fixed incomes the hardest, and there are no checks or balances in place to determine if these rate increases and surcharges are being spent appropriately and wisely.

I think it’s time for Mayor Landrieu to start doing more with less… I propose that this begins with appropriation the Office of Cultural Economy’s slush fund and applying it to infrastructure repairs.

(As a friend quipped the other day about the Mayor’s recent press release and fanfare regarding the 2012’s record 61 film projects in New Orleans, “The mayor complains about state budget cuts, yet lauds the tax credit that is, in part, responsible.”)

While discussing the potential increase, another friend suggested, “I’d also like see his senior staff donate those whack overtime payments [from the Hurricane Isaac work period] to the Save Our Sons campaign” to be applied to the actually provision of support services (mental health counseling and support, job training, etc.). And another added, “What sort of turn around time in repairs can we expect with that significant of a rate hike? Twenty-four hours?”

I suggest, too, that there is more that our City Council could do, as a body, to counteract some of the b.s. in general and the budgeting flaws in particular. To date during the current Administration, it appears that our Councilmembers have been pitted against one another through Mayor Landrieu’s adept application of a “divide and conquer” strategy. If a solid majority of the Council bands together to act independently, I believe that real and significant progress could be made — now is the time!

In June 2011, as part of a project to create action reports regarding particular problems in the French Quarter, I took a series of photographs to document several of the most seriously damaged or missing streetlights. While some have been repaired or replaced, it appears that several remain damaged and non-functional. Below are a series of “Then” and “Now” photographs for your consideration.

The Landrieu Administration has claimed that all of the backlog of damaged and non-functional streetlights have been repaired and that current outages and other problems which arose during this past year were the result of new causal factors, such as Hurricane Isaac. I believe that this is mistaken at best (possibly even duplicitous), as demonstrated by the “then” and “now” photos below.

Corner of Chartres & Toulouse Streets on 6/1/2011

Same corner on 1/9/2013 (Now with cheap Mardi Gras bead detailing!)

Corner of Royal & Iberville Streets on 6/1/2011

Same location on 1/9/2013 (One Shell Square had temporarily disappeared into the fog.)

225 Decatur Street on 6/1/2011

Same location on 1/9/2013 (Possibly repaired and damaged in the extreme again?)

Lamppost at 1012 Governor Nicholls with missing panel in its base on 6/1/2011

Same location on 1-9-2013 (Apparently this repair was considered to be “good enough for government work!”)

Additionally, French Quarter lampposts that are knocked down are not being repaired or replaced. At last count, there are 17 missing lampposts, a circumstance that impacts the safety of all who visit or reside in the Quarter. The following is a particularly noteworthy location of this type: On Sunday, October 16, 2011, NOPD officers found 37-year old murder victim Dr. Brent Hachfeld, an optometrist from Slidell, lying prone and bleeding from the back of his head near the corner of Dauphine and Dumaine Streets (more than four months after the photo on the left was taken at that same location).

Uptown/Lakeside corner of Dauphine and Dumaine Streets on 6/1/2011 — lamppost missing, wires exposed.

Same location on 1/9/2013 (Note: This corner was repaved as part of the Paths to Progress project. Unlike other locations with missing lampposts, at least this one wasn’t paved over.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One final discrepancy worth noting (a punchline, if you will): A significantly damaged lamppost in the French Quarter serves as the home of a well-documented geocache that was created in July 2007… I know this because I found and logged its location just last week. I also know for a fact that this particular lamppost was included in the listing of damaged streetlights reported in June 2011. To say that all of the city’s broken streetlights were repaired prior to the start of 2013 is simply untrue.

Genesis Report re: LA SB 573’s Hospitality District Legislation

I offer the following for your consideration: the Executive Summary of the report that started off the whole mess re: LA SB 573 and the Hospitality District: “Celebrate Our History, Invest in Our Future: Reinvigorating Tourism in New Orleans.”

My request for access to the full version of the report was simple and straightforward:

I am interested in reviewing the data and recommendations of the full version of this report and comparing such with the legislation regarding the proposed Hospitality District. The question I’m attempting to answer is whether or not the Hospitality District (as proposed) will satisfy the needs and/or requirements as detailed in the report.

Unfortunately my request for access to the full version of the report was denied by New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau staff due to its “proprietary” nature. Instead, I was offered a link to the press release issued by this agency in January 2010: New Orleans Launches Strategic Unified Master Plan for the Tourism Industry.

But consider this: If this report is serving as the rationale for major policy decisions, taxing authority considerations, and unprecedented acts of legislation in our city, then shouldn’t it be available for review in the public realm for proper scrutiny and consideration?

Meanwhile, I’m considering filing a Public Records Request for information regarding the expenses associated with the commissioning of this report.
If even one penny was funded via the taxpayers of New Orleans, then it’s
a public document by default.

The New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau wants it both ways — they play “public agency” when it suits them to do so, then masquerade as a private group the rest of the time.

Should the citizens of New Orleans be trusting such an entity with additional public funding (as proposed in the Hospitality District legislation that’s currently on the table)?

It’s a reasonable question.

New Orleanians: If you’re not disgusted by the proposed Hospitality District, then you’re not paying attention

Louis Armstrong Park re-opening ceremony 11-18-11.

I’m writing this today because I had to make the choice to sacrifice enjoying “Locals Thursday” at Jazz Fest this year in favor of leaving town on a bus or as part of a car caravan destined for Baton Rouge. That fact only fuels my irritation with the disturbing mess that is also known as the proposed “New Orleans Hospitality Zone District.” Color me cranky as a result of this change in plans and please take a few minutes to read and think about this in consolation.

The current version of proposed bill LA SB 608 “Creates the New Orleans Hospitality Zone District” would create a new board to govern a proposed downtown “hospitality zone” (essentially bounded by the Mississippi River, the Pontchartrain Expressway, and Claiborne and Elysian Fields Avenues). While this seems like a reasonable idea (protecting the goose that lays the golden egg), the details of its execution are distinctly sub-optimal.

This proposed legislatively-empowered entity would have the capability to levy new taxes within the district relative to hotel rooms, restaurant and nightclub sales, and parking (but is not strictly limited to such kinds of taxation — it is possible that additional tax streams could be proposed by this entity). If I understand correctly, the taxing power would affect all hotels in the city, as well as food and beverage sales and parking within the hospitality zone’s boundaries. These new taxes would be paid by all who enjoy the fun and amusement that our incredible city offers within the hospitality zone — no one is exempt.

It would also expressly permit the following:

To acquire by gift, grant, purchase, or otherwise all property, including rights of way; to hold and use any franchise or property, real, personal, or mixed, tangible or intangible, or any interest therein, necessary or desirable for carrying out the objects and purposes of the district.
(Digest, pg. 7, LA SB 608).

Why would such be required to promote tourism within the hospitality zone, enhance public safety and sanitation services, or provide signage and lighting? Ah… Perhaps it would facilitate this stated purpose: “…to expand the entertainment and leisure activities and facilities within the hospitality zone.” This is the part of the bill that I refer to as ill-defined, over-reaching, and just plain dangerous.

The district’s board would be comprised of 11 to 17 appointees (different sources are presently reporting different tallies) from the city’s primary public and private tourism associations, as well as several individuals who would serve at the Mayor’s pleasure, all without set term limits. The majority of these individuals would almost certainly be closely tied to the Mayor, including the tourism industry representatives through his former Lieutenant Governor stint.

I ask, is cronyism not only possible — but perhaps inevitable? What could possibly go wrong with appointing friends and associates to positions of authority, perhaps without due consideration of their ability to serve both the tourism industry and the residential population with equal concern? There is nothing that can guarantee these appointees will also be committed to addressing the day-to-day needs of the impacted neighborhoods appropriately and completely. And while Mayor Landrieu is reportedly attempting to distance himself from this legislative action, the overall impact and intimacy created should reasonably inspire caution.

If the idea of creating special legislative districts was devised as a strategy to thwart abuses of power and public money in the Post-Katrina era, is this the best legislation our elected representatives can craft? Aren’t we supposed to be frowning upon endorsing classic New Orleans power grabs these days?

If this piece of legislation (as currently written) gets pushed through, the district’s “superboard” would be granted the authority to make policy decisions, as well as the power to levy taxes and issue bonds. Residents of the neighborhoods (in part or in whole) within the hospitality zone do not have a participatory role relative to this proposed board. At this time, affected neighborhoods include the Vieux Carré, the Faubourg Marigny’s Triangle, part of the Faubourg Tremé, part of St. Roch, the Central Business District, and the Warehouse District (as well as the already-existing legislative Downtown Development and French Quarter Management Districts). At least when matters go before the New Orleans City Council, residents have an opportunity to participate, object, and/or advocate — that could become non-existent with regard to this “superboard” (anything meaningful or impacting could simply happen behind closed doors). Transparency is not enhanced nor guaranteed in this privatization scheme… Where are the checks and balances?

As currently written, the tax revenue would be allocated without requiring input from or oversight by the New Orleans City Council. Monies generated would go to funding tourism advertising in general, as well as infrastructure enhancements within the hospitality zone’s boundaries solely at the discretion of this board. The citizens of the New Orleans do not get to vote to approve the creation of this Hospitality District, nor would they get to vote for the composition of its board, but will have the opportunity to vote on taxes levied on behalf of the Hospitality District. From my perspective, the independence of this non-elected board’s functioning amounts to taxation without representation and is unconscionable.

This also sets a precarious precedent and suggests that any proposed taxes will automatically be contentious — will this board be successful in raising one thin dime as a result? What happens if nothing put to vote passes successfully — will necessary infrastructure repairs continue to exist unaddressed? Will there be any expedient and equitable avenue for recourse? I’m guessing that this might be why LA SB 608 surprisingly allows for the Hospitality District “to sue and be sued.”

Is the city handing over responsibility for all such repairs and maintenance within the hospital zone, or just “special repairs?” If the responsibility is divided, won’t  finger-pointing of the “You fix it!”/”No, you fix it!” sort be the probable result? And if all repairs are, in fact, going to be the responsibility of the district, then aren’t the people with the audacity to live inside of the hospitality zone still being taxed like every other citizen in this city but receiving less service or benefit for what they’re paying? (Taxes collected would be going to the city regardless of whether or not the city is providing the services that would be customary outside of the hospitality zone.) For the residents of the affected neighborhoods, this could become an absolute nightmare.

Coco Robicheaux’s Second Line 12-12-11.

The map of the hospitality zone displayed at the one and only public meeting to date did not note a single proposed project to enhance the portion of Tremé neighborhood included in the hospitality zone’s boundaries (keeping in mind the traditional Faubourg Tremé boundaries that are historically identified as being Esplanade Avenue, North Rampart St., St. Louis St., and North Broad).  Likewise, the Faubourg Marigny’s Triangle did not seem to merit significant attention (with the exception of one “proposed”–  but not guaranteed — street/sidewalk repair work notation on Frenchmen Street), and the Marigny Rectangle (the other half of this historic neighborhood) is not included within the hospitality zone’s boundaries (excluding it from receiving any direct benefit).

Bear in mind that pretty proposal maps do not come with warranties — it’s purely conceptual at this stage in the game. There are streets in both of these neighborhoods that would benefit tremendously from re-paving and the repair of buckling sidewalks — what leverage would the residents of these neighborhoods have to get any non-proposed needs addressed? Where is the accountability to all who would be bounded by this proposed district (including the residential population)?

In 2011, subsequent to the NFL football season kick-off debacle, it was recommended to City Council by the Jackson Square Task Force that a special events coordinator position be created to prevent event-related train wrecks at the city’s administrative level… needless to say, such a position still does not exist. If we hand over the care and maintenance of the Hospitality District to the tourism industry without a direct means of oversight by the city (aside from the somehow catching the Mayor’s ear), can we really trust that this board will do any better, or that the city’s Administration won’t simply abdicate responsibility for more than what’s intended through this legislation? I’m frankly expecting that, if the city no longer has a role, we’ll have absurd events geared toward reeling in tourist bucks… Every. Single. Weekend.

In a recent letter regarding this issue, VCPORA President Carol Allen and French Quarter Citizens President Tom Bissell asked, “The fundamental question remains: Do we want the French Quarter to become a ‘hospitality zone’ with special taxation and its own non-elected, independent governing structure, most likely with a majority of seats being held by tourism interests?”

As a resident of the French Quarter, this is the epitome of the “Disneyfication” that everyone decries: handing over the heart of our amazing city to the tourism and hospitality industries on a silver platter in exchange for an alarming loss of process and control. It could impact the desirability of living within the boundaries of the Hospitality District negatively by further placing tourism concerns as a priority over and above the needs of the year-round, tax-paying residents. Please do not forget that it is this residential population in particular that makes these neighborhoods some of the most unique and distinct in the world.

To quote from Michelle Krupa’s 4/29/12 article in the Times-Picayune, “‘The proposed hospitality legislation raises a number of questions and issues,’ said Janet Howard of the watchdog Bureau of Governmental Research. She cited the imposition of a new district on top of existing ones, the ‘appropriateness of the proposed boundaries and governance,’ and provisions that would allow the board to authorize tax-increment financing districts and other sub-districts.” Krupa also notes, “…some residents and business owners, particularly those in the French Quarter, have expressed concerns. They say the board as envisioned is too powerful, too beholden to the Mayor and simply unnecessary.”

Mardi Gras Indians’ Super Sunday 3-18-12.

Just because the Convention Center board voted during March 2012 to contribute up to $30 million for refurbishing the Vieux Carré and a larger hospitality zone in advance of next year’s Super Bowl event on February 3, 2013 does not mean that vague and over-reaching legislation should be rushed through as an on-demand commodity in response to a proffered enticement. Where is the integrity in this process?

The proposed legislation is being drafted (and re-drafted) in a manner that does not allow time for proper discussion and review with all concerned parties participating equally;  that’s unacceptable, irresponsible, and careless. Do we really need a hastily-drafted and ill-defined legislative act to permit the tourism industry to spend this promised money for its own ultimate benefit if that “contribution” is meant to nurture the very parts of our city that this same industry has exploits? If the projected volume of desired annual visitors by 2018 to our city’s most visited historic areas is 13.7 million, why is legislation required to pay the dues for the anticipated and inevitable wear and tear?

Do we really need to subsidize the tourism industry on top of the taxes and donations snapped up by the Mayor’s own Office of Cultural Economy (and where does that money go, anyway)? While I can certainly understand the industry’s reluctance to allow these funds to flow into the city’s coffers via the General Fund, is this act of legislation really the best alternative?

I strongly encourage our elected representatives to go back to the drawing board in an attempt to solve the actual problem (how best to consistently care for one of Louisiana’s most valuable assets) instead of graciously opening the door to welcome new ones.  Added bureaucracy, increased confusion, and decreased citizen involvement are never components of a desirable outcome.

Please contact these Legislators before Thursday, 5/3/12 and let them know that we do NOT need a “superboard” or an ill-conceived and poorly executed “New Orleans Hospitality Zone District.” Please copy and paste these addresses into an e-mail you can send to the bill sponsors and committee members for this week:

murraye@legis.state.la.us, morrelljp@legis.state.la.us, morenoh@legis.state.la.us, wleger3@legershaw.com, dorseyy@legis.la.gov, tarverg@legis.la.gov, lasen15@legis.la.gov, cortezp@legis.la.gov, millsf@legis.la.gov, perryj@legis.la.gov, petersonk@legis.la.gov, info@vcpora.org

If you prefer to phone your opinion in, the Baton Rouge switchboard number is (225) 342-2040. Or you can visit our representatives’ local district offices.

Stay tuned, as LA SB 608 and other relevant bills can be amended… And we’re early in the game.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

5/1/12 Update: I am currently reviewing:

LA SB 473 Creates the New Orleans Hotel Tourism District, a political subdivision of the State of Louisiana“;

LA SB 573 “Creates the New Orleans Entertainment and Hospitality District“;

LA SB 588 “Authorizes the City of New Orleans to levy a hotel/motel tax”; and

LA SB 598 “Authorizes the City of New Orleans to levy a tax on food and beverages.”

It is my understanding that, if SB 608 (which creates the “New Orleans Hospitality Zone District”) passes on Thursday 5/3/12, these will be the mechanisms specifying exactly how the Hospitality District will operate. Their consideration is apparently contingent upon the passage of SB 608 (they cannot stand separate from the creation of the district itself).