Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Just give us our damn money

One important point about the mayor's "security" plan to shut down the bars at 3 and run all the unclean people out of the Quarter is that most of the one time expenses will be paid for by the Convention Center. This is technically public money. But it gets treated more like the private piggy bank account of our tourism poo-bahs and their buds.
The Convention Center is one of the largest taxing entities in Orleans Parish, bringing in nearly $60 million a year from state-approved taxes on hotels, a sales tax on food and drinks throughout the city and other assessments.

In Orleans Parish, that places it behind only the city itself, the Orleans Parish School Board and the Regional Transit Authority in terms of the total taxpayer dollars that flow into its coffers.

That’s led to a healthy surplus for the Convention Center, which is sitting on $241 million in the bank. Those reserves were expected to grow by about $28 million this year, not counting whatever is spent on helping the city fund the security plan.

Board President Melvin Rodrigue said those hefty reserves are needed to bring in conventions and tourists and to help fund capital projects, including plans to help develop a hotel and retail complex on about 47 acres upriver of the Convention Center and to finance improvements on Convention Center Boulevard and nearby streets.

“We’re working on a lot of great projects. Those reserves that are in place are there for a reason, and we have every intention of putting them to good use,” said Rodrigue, who also is the president of Galatoire's Restaurant.

But the Convention Center’s sizable share of local tax revenue has come under scrutiny in recent years. In 2015, the Bureau of Governmental Research put out a report noting that significant chunks of revenue collected in New Orleans go to entities that are not under the city’s control, including the Convention Center and other entities focused on tourism rather than core city services.
Now, I'd hardly be one to argue that placing control of the public funds directly under the discretion of the public's elected representatives rather than allowing these tourism functionaries to squirrel it away is a magical path to better budget priorities. But it's certainly the more democratic way to go about things. If we even believe in that stuff anymore. 

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