Officials delay tackling Saints tax plan
Officials delay tackling Saints tax plan
N.O. lawmakers want piece of the action
Thursday, June 02, 2005
By Ed Anderson and Robert Travis Scott
BATON ROUGE -- Action on a package of bills that could generate as much as $15 million for a deal to keep the Saints in New Orleans was delayed Wednesday to give Gov. Kathleen Blanco more time to discuss the proposal with New Orleans area lawmakers, a top aide to the governor said.
The legislators said they want assurances from Blanco that the area would get money from the tax package or some other pool of money for things such as tourism-related projects, anti-crime programs and after-school tutoring.
The bills would increase the New Orleans-Jefferson Parish hotel-motel tax from 4 percent to 5 percent, impose a 5 percent tax on car rentals in the two parishes and allow the Superdome Commission to impose a tax of up to 10 percent on tickets to Saints games and other National Football League events at the Dome as well as concessions sold at the stadium. Under the current contract with the state, the Saints would have to approve the ticket and concession taxes. The team has declined comment.
The House Ways and Means Committee was to consider the bills Wednesday, but Rep. Bryant Hammett, D-Ferriday, told the committee that talks were continuing among the governor, area lawmakers and hotel and auto rental interests, so he was deferring action on his bills until Monday or Tuesday.
"We want to make sure as many people are as well-informed" as possible on what the bill does and how the money will be spent, said Blanco's chief of staff, Andy Kopplin.
Kopplin said he has not detected opposition to the measures, "but we have mostly gotten questions" on how the plan will work.
Kopplin said the state will need at least $10 million in new revenue to make annual payments under the existing contract with Saints owner Tom Benson and up to $12 million to finance a new deal that would include Superdome renovations and lower annual guarantees than Benson is now getting. The current 10-year, $186 million deal runs through 2011.
Superdome officials told a Senate committee this week the state may be as much as $10 million short of the $15 million it owes the Saints by July 5. Superdome Commission Chairman Tim Coulon said the state will find the money to prevent defaulting on the agreement. The state was about $7 million short of the $15 million last year and chose to borrow money from the economic development agency to make the payment.
Benson broke off talks with Blanco in April and said he would not resume negotiations until after the football season early next year.
Rep. Karen Carter, D-New Orleans, said local lawmakers want to know more about Blanco's plans for the taxes.
"The members want to know why the governor is raising the money and what it will be spent on. . . . Once we get the numbers of how she will pay for this year's payment (to the team) and the taxes needed going forward, then we will have a basis for a common ground with the governor," Carter said.
"The state should be paying for some of the July payment, not just from New Orleans area sources," she said.
Carter said the New Orleans area delegation was scheduled to meet privately Wednesday night with Kopplin and Commissioner of Administration Jerry Luke LeBlanc.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Alario, D-Westwego, said the Orleans-Jefferson delegation "must present a united front" when the bills come to the House floor or risk having the package killed.
He said Blanco will be "hearing the concerns" of lawmakers, including some who want either the new taxes or other revenue sources in the state budget to pay for tourism-friendly items, like cleaning up the French Quarter.
Carter said she would like to see some of the tax package going to non-Saints programs, such as anti-crime efforts, helping finance the Essence Music Festival, a hospitality industry training program conducted by the Urban League, and after-school activities.
Rep. Juan LaFonta, D-New Orleans, said that people in his district think the area needs more educational programs and should not be helping Benson.
"They see a greedy old man with a huge yacht in Lake Pontchartrain while other things in the city are falling down," LaFonta said.
LaFonta said that he wants to see language in any agreement or legislation specifying that if the Saints move after the upcoming football season, the city -- not the state -- would get the $81 million exit-clause penalty the present contract calls for.
Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, said he does not see "a lot of opposition now, but I do see a lot of concern. . . . Is this the top concern for the city of New Orleans?"
Rep. Charmaine Marchand, D-New Orleans, said the state should pay to renovate the Superdome, not the city or revenue generated in the city.
"It is a state-owned facility; it is a state obligation," Marchand said. "There must be some assurances that New Orleans gets something from the tax revenues," not just the Saints. . . . . . . .
Ed Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or (225) 342-5810. Robert Travis Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (225) 342-4197.
RE: Officials delay tackling Saints tax plan
what part of the state this woman hails from?
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