BGR endorses French Quarter sales tax plan for State Police

Posted on: October 7 2015

By Richard Rainey, | The Times-Picayune 

plan to increase sales taxes in the French Quarter to pay for better security has gained the backing of an influential government watchdog group.

The nonpartisan Bureau of Governmental Research offered its support Tuesday (Oct. 6) for a proposed quarter-cent sales tax increase on French Quarter businesses to pay for a detachment of State Police troopers dedicated to New Orleans' hallmark neighborhood.

"Creating a sales tax to fund additional security in the Quarter will improve safety for residents and tourists alike, while appropriately allocating the cost burden," BGR said.

The proposal will go before French Quarter voters on the Oct. 24 ballot. Supporters have painted it as a tax that would fall disproportionately on tourists, who stand to benefit the most from an increased police presence there.

The measure would create a French Quarter "economic development district," governed by the City Council, to levy the sales tax. The plan would then dedicate almost 25 cents of every $100 spent at French Quarter businesses to paying for at least 30 state troopers permanently assigned to patrol New Orleans' historic center. In all, city officials estimate about $2 million would be raised each year through 2020 when the tax would be scheduled to expire. 

The measure would bring the total sales tax in the French Quarter to almost 9.25 percent.

The taxing district would also include areas not technically within the French Quarter, including the blocks between Iberville and Canal streets, the lake side of Rampart Street, Armstrong Park and the downriver side of Esplanade Avenue. 

The State Police presence is part of a larger network of security measures and safety patrols cobbled together by the Landrieu administration and French Quarter advocates after the New Orleans Police Department shrank in size and a rise in crime began to plague the tourist destination. The network includes New Orleans police working out of the NOPD's 8th District, off-duty officers paid to patrol the Quarter and civilian quality-of-life officers, known as NOLA Patrol, to handle lower-level violations that can often take up much of patrolling officers' time. 

The New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center have agreed to continue funneling about $2.5 million a year in a self-assessed tax on hotels and motels to the security measures if voters approve the tax plan.

BGR expressed some reservations about the measure, including how it was written.

The language on the ballot doesn't specify that the money must be spent on State Police patrols, but refers more generally to public safety efforts overall. Instead, a signed agreement among Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the City Council and State Police will ensure that the money would go toward paying for the extra troopers.

You can read BGR's in-depth analysis of the proposal here.