DSA New Orleans 2020 Dec 5 Runoff

Voter Guide

Orleans Parishwide Propositions

Proposition 1

Mayor LaToya Cantrell put forward three connected property tax reallocations to voters, but they will be presented and voted on separately because of maximum text limits on the ballot. Cantrell’s administration is claiming these combined millage proposals will be an overall tax cut for landowners, and her proposal also increases City spending on housing, infrastructure, early childhood education, and economic development. How does the Mayor propose we increase spending and decrease taxes? By raiding the library millage and gutting its services.

We’ll talk more about the library millage in the next section. For now, Proposition 1 increases a current 2020 tax mill of 2.33 for street and traffic control devices, capital improvements and infrastructure to a proposed 2021 mill of 2.619 for infrastructure and maintenance. This increase translates to about a million dollars a year.

If voters pass proposition 1 without passing proposition 2, taxes will go up for property owners. As with the other proposed millages on the ballot, no spending plan is spelled out for these funds.

Proposition 2

Proposition 2 needs to be defeated. Mayor Cantrell’s political operation has been pulling out all the stops to spread a blatant misinformation campaign, even going so far as to abuse public resources and the public trust by sending an “official” NOPL email to all library users stating that if Prop 2 fails, the library will immediately lose half its funding. This is a bald lie. The millage that Prop 2 would replace does not actually expire until the end of 2021. If Prop 2 is defeated, there will be ample time during the year to work out a renewal plan that serves the library’s needs and meets the mayor’s stated goals for early childhood. We believe this is imminently possible. Furthermore we assert that for the sake of our city’s well being, it is absolutely necessary.

Even in times of “social distancing” libraries are social binders. Open to everyone regardless of race, gender, or class, libraries provide free access to recreational reading and media, public information, social services, early literacy enrichment, and cultural programming for all ages. People look to these spaces and services as neighborhood anchors. In New Orleans this is especially true. Library reopenings were impactful symbolic moments after Katrina. They were critical points of access for New Orleanians seeking disaster assistance as they put their lives together after the flood. At the center of the library’s mission is to preserve our history and to be a place where that culture can flourish and reproduce itself. As an institution, the New Orleans Public Library is the ultimate “culture bearer.”

Libraries aren’t just a crucial public good, they’re also extremely popular with voters. Both the 1987 and 2015 millages that ensure our libraries’ full funding through 2021 passed with overwhelming majorities. In a city where citizens are rarely shy to express dissatisfaction with public services, the library stands out as a cherished favorite. This is possible because the libraries are supported through a dedicated millage that allows them to pursue their mission with minimal political interference. Even though our library funding remains lower than most US cities of comparable or even smaller size, including Baton Rouge, New Orleanians still receive remarkable “bang” for the taxpayers’ buck. And yet the mayor’s proposal seeks to remove this funding for other purposes. Why is this happening?

Packaging a series of proposals that defund the library as a “millage renewal” is an attempt to hoodwink the voters. But the City’s maneuvers are even more cynical than that — The mayor is also trying to convince us to play ball with her unaccountable “economic development” slush fund (more on that in the next section) by tying the fate of the library’s funding with early childhood education. What’s important to recognize is that for every $5 sucked out of the library’s budget from this millage proposal, only about $1 of that goes to early childhood education. The rest goes to far murkier purposes.

Here are the details: The 2020 mill rate is 2.58, which translates to about $10 or $11 million dollars for the library and the library alone. The proposed 2021-and-beyond mill rate is 0.987, which nets about $4 million, to be split between the library and early childhood education. This is a bloodbath. But somehow, the Mayor insists that there will be no cuts to branches, or layoffs, or reduction in services. Again, this is a bald lie. Don’t fall for it. Already in public meetings, city administrators and the library director (who serves at the pleasure of the mayor) are discussing drastic plans to “reimagine” the library spaces (read: close branches and reduce hours) and cut staff by 10-13% annually in the coming years. The plain truth is Prop 2 consigns the library to 20 years of fly-by-nite management where a dedicated public service is replaced by ad-hoc patronage based outsourcing to private non-profits. This will mean layoffs, furloughs, and a devastating cut to library services for an entire generation of children.

What the Mayor wants is more control over the City’s revenue. We get it. Library millages are currently a fund that can’t be raided on an annual basis to do whatever else she wants, like hire STR executives to run an unaccountable gentrification slush fund. If voters approve this proposal, the library funding will not just be immediately reduced, it will also be subject to future austerity measures whenever those in power want to go fishing for more resources. These cuts are an act of violence against dedicated public servants, they are a denial of invaluable service to the poor and working people of the city, a betrayal of our commitment to democracy and equality, and an insult to the people of New Orleans. Vote No on 2. Tell your friends, coworkers, and neighbors to do the same.

Proposition 3

The real coup de grace of the City’s three proposed millages is this one. This is where the “slush fund” is made, so to speak. This proposition converts a 0.91 mill dedicated to housing, which nets approximately $4 million a year, to a 2.213 mills combined fund for “housing and economic development,” a.k.a., a $10M pile of money that former short term rental executive Peter Bowen can use for whatever he and his cronies want. Bowen’s new Office of Business and External Services combines city permitting and land use functions with a new mission to serve loosely defined “economic development” functions. What does our community need more than fully funded public libraries that anyone can use? How about a redevelopment of Six Flags? (Yes, that is honestly mentioned as the first item in the City’s millage explainer on this item.) City CAO Gilbert Montano says the purpose of this office is to “get creative on how we can help (businesses) succeed.” That the city has hired a person with Bowen’s background to execute this plan gives us no confidence that this is the kind of “success” that will be good for most residents.

The second promise is that this influx of cash will “provide job opportunities to residents in high-paying industries.” This claptrap is like a mini-ITEP just for the City. Giving businesses tax giveaways and other kickbacks does not materially improve the lives of Louisianans, but Lucy swears this time she’s going to hold the football, really.

How do we know the government will spend this money in tax giveaways to corporations rather than investing it in affordable housing? It’s just a hunch. After all, one of the biggest issues that critics have with these millage proposals is that they include no spending plan! Even the moderate, pro-business think tank the Bureau of Governmental Research hates these proposals. They stop short of calling it a slush fund (we won’t) but still say in their report: “The lack of a detailed spending plan for the economic development tax is a greater concern. Economic development initiatives, by their nature, are less tangible and certain in their results. If the City does not have a clear plan for how it will use the tax revenue and measure results, it opens the door for waste.”

Most of the money Prop 2 takes away from the library will go into the slush fund created by Prop 3. Together, these propositions seek to gut New Orleans’s neighborhood libraries in order to pay for unaccountable giveaways to businesses chosen at Bowen’s discretion. Montano says, “neighborhoods are businesses in my mind.” We believe they are more than that.

There’s no good reason to vote for this catastrophic proposal. No, no, no.