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Louisiana Gov. Edwards to sign infrastructure, casino bills

June 7, 2019

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Recently passed legislation aimed at increasing funding for badly needed repairs to New Orleans streets, drainage and drinking water systems was signed into law Friday by Gov. John Bel Edwards, marking a hard-fought victory for Mayor LaToya Cantrell.

Edwards signed the infrastructure-related bills, including a 1% increase on hotel rooms, in a ceremony at offices of the Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans. He remarked on the long, hard negotiations leading up to its passage that involved his administration, leaders of New Orleans’ tourism industry and representatives for Cantrell.

“Sometimes they got rather spirited,” Edwards said of the negotiations.

Cantrell took office about 13 months ago and spent much of her first year pressing for the city to get a larger share of hotel and tourism revenue. Recurring flash flooding and boil-water notices, especially since 2017, had laid bare numerous problems with equipment and power generation at the long-troubled Sewerage & Water Board and increased the sense of urgency behind Cantrell’s efforts. But state leaders and tourism officials had long been resistant to diverting hotel tax money the city’s way.

“I was told it would never happen. Don’t even try. Forget about it, there’s no way.” Cantrell said before Edwards signed the legislation.

The hotel tax increase, along with a planned increase in short-term-rental unit taxes and other measures, are expected to result in $26 million in new annual recurring revenue for infrastructure needs.

That’s in addition to non-recurring payments including $28 million from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center; $22 million from unused funds from past disasters, including a loan fund for Hurricane Katrina; and $17.5 million in the restructuring of recovery loans owed by the city.

Edwards also was to sign a measure extending Harrah’s contract to operate Louisiana’s land-based New Orleans casino for 30 years. An extension effort had failed a year earlier amid questions about whether it offered enough to the state.

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