If the deal that sources say is in place turns out to be as solid as it sounds, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell will be able to mark her first anniversary in office with a heck of an accomplishment under her belt.
City officials have long sought to extract some of the money that goes to tourism and redirect it to desperate city needs that affect locals and visitors alike, and nowhere is the desperation greater than over at the Sewerage & Water Board. But it was Cantrell, who took office last May 7, who decided to make it a major fight.
She did what she does best, which is to marshal outside support and create pressure on the folks across the bargaining table. The central question has always been whether she could play the inside game and negotiate a deal.
The past few weeks have seen reports of near-deals and scuttled negotiations amid hard feelings. Cantrell and her allies, including state House Ways and Means chairman and Cantrell ally Neil Abramson, played hardball last week when they pushed a series of bills through his committee and argued that they could always be amended later.
But negotiations continued, with Gov. John Bel Edwards’ team playing a part, and word Monday was that a handshake agreement had been reached to direct some new and some existing revenue the city’s way.
Cantrell wouldn’t get everything she wanted, and nor would tourism officials, but both sides would have enough. The city would get $48 million in one-time cash for infrastructure (Cantrell had sought $75 million). Recurring money would come from sources such as higher hotel taxes and taxes on short-term rental stays. The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center would forfeit some of its vast reserves, but the industry would not lose marketing funds. The Legislature would have to approve some elements of the plan, but support from the city, industry and governor’s office would surely help.
And Cantrell would be able to go to voters in the near future and ask them to approve a drainage fee while arguing that she did what she could to find money elsewhere first. Presumably, tourism industry officials would back her up on that.