With the crime rate on a worrying trajectory in New Orleans, state Rep. Helena Moreno thinks she has found a way to pay to get more cops on the streets. And she thinks she can do it without raising taxes or taking money from other vital budget priorities.
Moreno, D-New Orleans, wants to draft a bill that would give the city some of the $9 million or so worth of uncashed lottery tickets that accumulate in Louisiana each year — money that for now exclusively finances future prizes.
With $2.5 million of it, Moreno said, New Orleans could pay to keep 25 state troopers in the French Quarter year-round, something Mayor Mitch Landrieu has called for repeatedly amid a series of high-profile violent crimes in the city’s oldest neighborhood.
The trouble is that Gov. Bobby Jindal must erase a $1.6 billion deficit in the coming fiscal year before the end of the legislative session, which starts in April. And Jindal apparently is eyeing the same pot of cash, even if it would hardly put a dent in the overall deficit.
Moreno learned Thursday that Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols intends to include the uncashed lottery ticket money as part of the plan to be released on Friday for making up the state’s shortfall.
Now, Moreno is left hoping Jindal’s office is at least willing to compromise. New Orleans is responsible for about $3 million worth of the uncashed lottery tickets. And the city’s leaders badly want to use the money the area generates to supplement regular French Quarter patrols with state troopers all year long. Troopers typically beef up their presence now only for special events like Carnival and the Sugar Bowl.
“I agree ... it’s (been) a very difficult year” budgetwise, said Moreno, whose own office alerted the Jindal administration to the uncashed lottery tickets as a possible funding source. But “this may be a good solution.”
A spokeswoman for Nichols said she would not comment on the budget prior to the governor’s presentation of it Friday.
Moreno said she came up with the idea for using money from uncashed lottery tickets while researching how other states facing deficits raise money without increasing taxes. She said the money probably has gone unnoticed in the past because of a misconception that it must all be spent on education. But she said that’s true only of the lottery’s direct proceeds, not the money that’s left over when people don’t cash winning tickets.
The idea already has picked up a few other supporters.
“I certainly support the concept of State Police having a permanent presence in the French Quarter,” said state Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-Jefferson. “Right now, we have a problem.”
Stephen Perry, chief of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, said, “It makes logical sense, economic sense and it makes public-safety sense.”
Moreno said she hasn’t started writing the bill, and she must continue consulting on the details with Louisiana Lottery Corp. Director Rose Hudson and legislative attorneys. Nonetheless, she hopes Jindal’s administration will agree that $3 million will go a lot further toward improving safety in New Orleans than it will in plugging the state’s budget hole.
Putting the money in Louisiana’s general fund, she said, would be “like trying to put a Band-Aid on a body that’s exploded.”