May 082014

Allan Katz and Danae Columbus

Now that all the glitz and glamour of Monday’s inauguration is over, it’s time to get down to business. First on the list should be how the Mayor and Council are going to come up with all the millions to fund the two consent decrees and the firefighters’ judgment while keeping money flowing to other agencies in need, like the public libraries and the Sewerage and Water Board.

The World Trade Center could well be part of the solution. During Ray Nagin’s term, dialogue took place about giving the WTC to the firefighters to settle the lawsuit. We understand that firefighters liked the idea, but it was opposed by several councilmembers. Now that the deal to redevelop the WTC has fallen through with Gatehouse, Mayor Landrieu could revisit the idea if the firefighters were interested.

Then it would be up to the firefighters to select a developer and reap the financial benefits for 99 years.

Of course the tourism industry is not thrilled with the idea of an additional tax on hotel rooms. The proposed riverfront taxing district now making it way through the Legislature is not a new concept but it is growing legs. With a hotel room tax already second in the nation only to New York City it is safe to say this new tax – if passed despite being pulled by state Rep. Wesley Bishop on Wednesday – could have an adverse affect on our tourism economy. Every convention we would lose would cost the city millions.  We’d also like to know what effect the proposed tax would have on the NFL and the NBA.

Tourism exec Steve Perry has expressed his view that the funds needed should be raised from a broader base of businesses. I’m sure that idea hit like a lead balloon. With property taxes continuing to rise due to the much needed vigilance of Assessor Erroll Williams, few citizens or business owners would be willing to pay more taxes.

All this brings us to the larger point.  Is New Orleans still a third world city with a Big Easy Caribbean quality of life, where taxes and drinks are cheap and city services minimal? Or are we the new New Orleans where we pay higher taxes, enjoy craft beverages, attract cutting edge businesses with their skilled work force and have better city services?  Hey, we still have Mardi Gras and the Jazz Fest so it can’t be all bad.

Higher taxes are here to stay. The Mayor and the new Council must create a citywide dialogue to determine how best to fund government. We look forward to that process.

We’re big fans of Mayor Bill de Blasio who has a broad mandate to create change in the Big Apple. Building more affordable housing is one of his first priorities – behind universal pre-kindergarten. De Blasio is investing $8.2 billion in a ten-year plan using state and federal funds as well as millions from local developers.

As an incentive to developers to build more affordable units, de Blasio has been rezoning key properties around their metro area to allow denser projects. De Blasio called this effort “a central pillar in the battle against equality.”

New Orleans has long suffered from a lack of affordable housing, especially for low-pay wage earners. Our initial post-Katrina population decline could be directly attributed to that housing deficiency.  New Orleans’ elected officials also should want to create a more livable city for poor and middle class citizens. It would help build our workforce and make our city safer.

Allan Katz spent 25 years as a political reporter and columnist at The Times-Picayune, and is now editor of the Kenner Star and host of several televsion programs, including the Louisiana Newsmaker on Cox Cable. Danae Columbus is executive producer of Louisiana Newsmaker, and has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall and the Dock Board. They both currently work for the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by their public relations firm are City council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.

  One Response to “Allan Katz and Danae Columbus: Should we give the World Trade Center to the firefighters?”

  1. Battle against INequality, you mean?

    I wish New Orleanians would realize, like De Blasio does, that allowing for more new construction and density helps keep older buildings affordable.

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