Saints tax plan stalls in House
Saints tax plan stalls in House
Revenue sources at heart of dispute
Saturday, June 04, 2005
By Ed Anderson and Robert Travis Scott
BATON ROUGE -- A proposal for a $15 million tax package to support the Saints has been put on hold again as New Orleans lawmakers are locked in dispute with Gov. Kathleen Blanco over fundamental aspects of the plan.
In meetings this week with administration officials, many local legislators said it is unfair for Blanco to continue vacuuming cash solely from the New Orleans tourism industry to support the state's current obligation to the team, especially if she is offering no new revenue to the city to deal with other problems.
As a result, a set of bills for the Blanco-backed Saints tax package has been placed on the schedule of hearings for the House Ways & Means Committee and then postponed for lack of support from local lawmakers.
Blanco has said any money toward a current or future Saints deal with the state must come from the local market. Many lawmakers outside the metro area are hostile toward the team and toward the use of any general state revenue to help the NFL franchise.
The governor is pushing a $15 million annual support package for the National Football League team, including higher hotel room taxes in Orleans and Jefferson parishes, ticket and concession fees at the Superdome, and a new 5 percent local rental car tax. The money could be used to help pay for the current or a future deal with the Saints.
The delays on the package are cutting deeply into the time remaining in the current legislative session, which ends June 23.
Blanco spokeswoman Denise Bottcher said the bills probably will not be heard because "there is no consensus among the New Orleans delegation. . . . There needs to be more talks."
Main sticking point
While a range of options is being studied, one of the Orleans delegation's most vocal demands -- that the current cash shortfall in the state's revenue stream for the Saints be paid by all taxpayers of the state and not just by those in Orleans and Jefferson parishes -- is impossible to meet, Bottcher said.
"The governor has said time and again the money to fund a Saints deal needs to come from the New Orleans area and her position has not changed," Bottcher said.
The Superdome and the New Orleans Arena are state-owned facilities supervised by a state agency, the Superdome Commission, which is responsible for making payments to the Saints under the state's contract. The commission's revenue comes primarily from local sources, including events and a local hotel tax.
Through the commission, the state is paying the Saints $186 million over 10 years in a contract that expires in 2011. But the hotel tax revenue has been lower than expected. The commission had to borrow money from another state agency to make its payment last year and is short by as much as $10 million for its $15 million payment due July 5.
The administration expects some form of New Orleans area money to pay back that agency loan eventually, even though the state has a large surplus of operating money this year. That, too, rankles some local lawmakers.
Blanco was in talks with Saints owner Tom Benson to craft a new deal, including a renovated Superdome, that would keep the Saints in New Orleans until 2025. Benson cut off those negotiations in April and said he might start talks again after the football season, when Benson can move the team if he pays an $81 million penalty.
Even if Blanco's bills passed, money from the new tax package won't be available for the July 5 payment, although the state could borrow money to make the payment, then pay off the debt with the revenue from the new tax package.
Lawmakers speak out
Local lawmakers critical of Blanco's tax package include Democrats and Republicans, and representatives from Orleans and Jefferson parishes, although the voices of concern are by no means unanimous. Several lawmakers and administration officials said the dissatisfaction was expressed in meetings Wednesday and Thursday between Blanco Chief of Staff Andy Kopplin and the Orleans and Jefferson lawmakers. Kopplin did not return phone calls Friday.
Generally, the Orleans and Jefferson lawmakers support the idea of raising additional local revenue to support a new, long-term deal with the Saints, participants on both sides of the talks said. But since that has not materialized, the lawmakers have been asking what exactly Blanco wants to do with the new tax revenue. They fear Blanco might be raising a permanent tax to support a team that won't be here next year.
As for the current shortfall, the state made that obligation when it signed the contract with the Saints in 2001, and the entire state, and not just state revenue drawn from the New Orleans area, should have to fulfill that contract, said Rep. Karen Carter, D-New Orleans.
By comparison, when the state decided to support a new railcar factory in Alexandria, it contributed more than $30 million in cash to the deal from general state funds. And when the state found itself on the hook for nearly $1 million because of an unexpected loophole in its contract with a private golf course in Avondale, the state expects to make up the difference with general funds, Carter said.
Local lawmakers also are wondering how much, if any, the local area will get of the $81 million owed the state if the Saints pull out next year.
Rep. Jim Tucker, R-Algiers, who attended both the Orleans and Jefferson delegation meetings with Kopplin, said many members voiced their concerns.
'A tough sell'
But Rep. John Alario, D-Westwego, who has helped broker past deals with the Saints, disagrees with Blanco's critics.
Any statewide tax or revenue measures that come from parishes outside of the New Orleans area will face a "tough sell" in the Legislature, Alario said.
"I don't think all the king's horses and all the king's men could sell that," he said. "I think it will end up being resolved but things have gotten off to a bad start. Everybody's got to put new spikes on the shoes and start running the last lap."
Rep. Rick Farrar, D-Pineville, a critic of the existing Saints deal, said that any statewide tax measure to help meet the shortfall is doomed in the Legislature.
"I don't know anybody in the north Louisiana delegation who is interested in bailing the Saints out," Farrar said.
He said he may propose an amendment to the tax bills that could limit them to just one year "to see if they (the Saints) are going to leave."
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Ed Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (225) 342-5810. Robert Scott can be reached at email@example.com or (225) 342-4197.
do these northern la morons realize that if we lose the team, we will lose the super bowl!!!! seems like the only idea they support is the one where the city foots the whole bill. do they benefit from the SB?
This is typical anti-New Orleans politics once again. He morons, here's an idea, why don't you let Orleans and Jefferson Parish keep all of the tax revenue that is generated in those two parishes, and they can pay for the Saints themselves - sound fair? Baton Rouge can give back the $16 Billion annual tourism market that NEW ORLEANS generates. It can give back the $5 Billion that the convention center generates. The tens of Billions that the POrt of New Orleans generates. The vast majority of wealthy residents taxes who pretty much all live in or around New Olreans. Give all that back, and with half of the state budget, or more, lost, you can fund all that other crap and NO and Metairie can pay for the Saints and a new stadium in a single year.
This is just plain stupidity. We signed a deal. We own the premises. We reap the benefits (taxes) of having the team here. But you should pay for it. F---ing idiots. Again - I think maybe the entire state should just frop into the Gulf.
Well done WhoDat, good job man!!!!!!
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