2019 Louisiana Democratic Socialist Voting Guide

Runoff Edition

Home Rule Charter Amendment: Human Rights Commission

This amendment to Orleans Parish’s Home Rule Charter would create a commission “to safeguard all individuals in the City of New Orleans from discrimination and to exercise all powers, duties, and functions provided by applicable state and municipal law.” If passed, an independent board of 15 commissioners would be appointed (8 by the Mayor, 7 by the City Council) to serve staggered three-year terms. The board would act as a court, of sorts. It could receive, initiate, investigate, hear, and determine violations of the city’s anti-discrimination laws. It would have subpoena power to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of evidence. And it could even issue orders, which would be enforced by Civil District Court. This amendment is being spearheaded by by Vincenzo Pasquantonio, the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Human Rights and Equity.

Unfortunately, the city has given us plenty of reason to doubt its commitment to human rights (and not just through its own ravenous and insatiable criminal punishment system). Two years ago, the city passed a resolution to screen its investments and contracts so that we wouldn’t be doing business with human rights violators. But the Anti-Defamation League and other pro-Israel political donors successfully pressured the City Council to rescind the resolution just a couple weeks later over concern that Israel could be counted as a violator of human rights. Mayor Cantrell, then a council member, had authored the resolution, but flip-flopped and backed withdrawal. She claimed she didn’t realize there could have been a connection between the New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee, which pushed for the measure, and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, which the group mentions on the front page of its website. The mayor’s office also recently submitted a human rights report to the United Nations, highlighting the problems of racial discrimination, environmental justice, housing and economic justice. We read the report, but there were no references to the mayor’s inaction on relocating the residents of Gordon Plaza who were duped into living on a Superfund site.

So go ahead and vote YES for this measure if you want to, but don’t expect the mayor’s office to do anything to support human rights if it comes at a political cost.

$500M 30 yr Bond issue

This would be the largest capital improvements financing package to be approved by voters since 2004. These public bonds are paid back through dedicated city revenues and would not require any new fees or taxes. The plan is to spend $250 million on roads and drainage, $225 million on much-needed repairs to public buildings, parks, museums and libraries. The other $25 million is to be spent on “creating affordable housing” although it isn’t clear specifically how that is to be done. In any case, there’s no arguing against the need for any of this. Vote YES.

3.00 Mills 20 Yr Property Tax Increase

This property tax increase would pay for repairs to city streets, sewer and water infrastructure plus purchase of city vehicles and equipment. A millage rate represents the amount per every $1,000 of a property's assessed value above the homestead exemption. Approving this 3 mills would add $37.50 to the tax bill of a property assessed at $200,000. That increase would come on top of a rise in property taxes resulting from the recent quadrennial assessments. The mayor has asked that the city council “roll forward” current millage rates to capture the maximum revenue windfall from the assessment.

The new taxes would have serious impacts on the city’s cost-burdened renters and homeowners. Typically landlords pass on all or most of the cost of such increases to tenants. According to HousingNOLA, 41 percent of New Orleans homeowners are cost burdened and one third of all owner-occupied homes earn below the median income. Meanwhile, our property tax system remains riddled with exemptions handed out to developers, manufacturers, and non-profits that need to be revisited or eliminated.

The mayor claims there is no other way to raise the $10.2 million the new tax is estimated to bring in but her 2020 budget proposal includes $4.7 million in highly questionable appropriations to police and surveillance and has left the door open to funding Sheriff Gusman’s proposed jail expansion. We recognize the city’s fiscal situation is tenuous. But we also question why proposed remedies favor the privileges of wealth and bolster the police-surveillance state while heaping even more excessive burdens on poor people. We can do better.

6.75% Short-Term Rentals Tax

Part of the mayor’s “fair share” deal with the state, this 6.75% tax increase on short-term rentals (STRs) will send 75% of its proceeds to the city’s infrastructure fund and 25% to New Orleans & Co., a marketing agency that promotes tourism with no city oversight. The bill’s fiscal note predicts this tax will generate $10.5 million per year for the city, which needs an additional $80-$100 million each year to upgrade and maintain current infrastructure. We believe this proposal, along with the rest of the so-called “fair share” bargain only serves to reinforce the position of New Orleans’s tourism ownership class while failing to provide the necessary infrastructure funding it promises.

The “fair share” deal is predicated on several intolerable concessions to the city’s tourism elite. It permits the Convention Center to proceed with a publicly subsidized but privately profitable hotel project. It retroactively legitimizes a slush fund generated by money intended for the never-constructed Phase IV of the Convention Center, which the board now uses to back pet projects of the tourism ownership class. It folds the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation and its various public revenue streams into New Orleans and Co. where it can be spent with minimal public oversight. It plays a shell game with a “revived” tax on hotel rooms the city will collect instead of actually gaining any “shared” revenue from the tourism industry’s still disproportionate take.

The upper class in New Orleans makes a killing on tourism. A cabal of wealthy oligarchs rake in millions every year while the workers scrape by. While New Orleans and Co. receives more than $20 million a year from the $200 million in hospitality tax revenue the city generates, median wages for hotel housekeepers are just $10.59 an hour, and wait staff make just $9.57. The “fair share” deal does nothing to relieve these inequalities. Nor will it adequately address the city’s glaring infrastructure needs. It is estimated the deal could add $20 million a year to the city’s coffers. The Sewerage and Water Board’s 10-Year Capital Improvement Plan, alone, requires $3 billion, and repairing all the streets in “poor” condition would take $5 billion. The city and its working classes are getting very little in return for what the mayor has given up to the tourism owners.

Turning to short term rentals for revenue only further lets the elite off the hook while actively worsening conditions for cost-burdened workers. This tax would create a perverse incentive for the city to encourage STR growth to gain more tax revenue. In fact we are already seeing the effects of that. According to The Lens, the Cantrell administration drastically cut back on its enforcement plans, while emails showed city staff worried about the impact of enforcement on tax revenue. STRs turn residential neighborhoods into money-generating machines for landlords, driving up property values and pushing working-class New Orleanians out of the city. 8 out of 10 occupations in the hotel industry already pay so little that the median employee can’t afford market-rate on an efficiency apartment. The mayor has chosen to protect the privileges of the tourism elite while forcing housing-stressed residents and workers to absorb the costs of her choice. Nothing in this deal is “fair” to New Orleans’s working classes. And no aspect of it deserves your support.

Mid-City Security District $250/$375/$150 Parcel Fee Renewal 5 Yrs

This is a renewal and reorganization of a parcel fee applied to properties within the Mid-City Security District which pays for private security patrols within designated boundaries in Mid-City. The proposed change would lower the fee in some cases but expand its applicability to apartment buildings on a “per unit” basis.

There are dozens of these “security” or “neighborhood improvement” districts scattered across the city. The districts raise the cost of living in their selected neighborhoods by double-taxing residents for public services that already fall under the purview of the New Orleans Police Department. The MCSD is staffed by off-duty NOPD officers but many of these districts divert millions of dollars into the hands of private security firms who “deter” crime through stepped up neighborhood surveillance, random stops, and racial profiling. Current chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party, Louis Gurvich owns one of these private security firms.

None of this should exist in the first place. New Orleanians should expect quality city services regardless of what neighborhood they can afford to live in. And they certainly don’t need to be confronted by privatized police if they happen to wander into a more expensive one.