New Orleans is asking the governor and Legislature to help solve a Sewerage & Water Board funding crisis, both short-term and recurring. Any deal to claim a larger portion of tourism revenue, Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s main focus, would likely have to be approved during the legislative session that opened in Baton Rouge this week.
So now seems like a bad time to minimize the sense of urgency back home.
That’s what the City Council risks doing with the $5 million it's collecting from Entergy New Orleans, a penalty for the company’s bad-faith use of paid actors to impersonate activists supporting its bid to build a new power plant (the company claimed it didn’t know these fake protesters were being paid, but the paper trail showed that Entergy looked the other way while contractors and subcontractors developed and carried out the plan).
While a recent hearing on the subject focused on S&WB needs, the council is now considering splitting the money and using some of it for district-specific projects in New Orleans East, where the controversial plant is being built.
Cantrell strenuously objects, and she’s got a point. Whether or not these other projects are worthy, funding them instead of sending all the money to the water board would send the message that the city is asking for help but not doing all it can on its own. It would come off as politics as usual, not all-hands-on-deck. That’s not going to win over skeptical lawmakers from other parts of the state.
“My administration has made it a priority to make you aware of the dire financial and physical condition of our Sewerage and Water Board, and the consequences should the S&WB collapse,” the mayor wrote in a March 12 letter. “So to learn that the council is considering directing some of the funds received from the fine to address projects other than the S&WB is disturbing.”
Despite Cantrell’s concerns, the council has sole oversight of Entergy, so it will make the call. That’s a subtlety that’s likely to be lost on anyone looking for a reason to say no.