Here's how to spend sports gambling revenue and who should pay for New Orleans area levee work

May 10, 2021 6:00am
Photo of Drew Broach
New Orleans, LA Correspondent

See also what Power Poll members think of LaToya Cantrell

Whatever revenue Louisiana collects from sports gambling should be spent on early childhood education, according to The Times-Picayune Power Poll. Almost 59 percent of the survey respondents chose preschool for the money, more than twice the number who said the revenue should be put in the general fund for lawmakers to decide every year.

“My experience in the Legislature tells me that if the revenue is not dedicated to something like early childhood development, its chances of passing are extremely diminished,” said Danny Martiny of Kenner, who carried many a gambling bill during his 16 years in the state House and Senate. “To some legislators, voting for gambling is a no-no. But dedicating the revenue to some worthwhile cause eases some of the reluctance.”

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“I think gambling revenue should be used to fund education and health care, the two areas that are frequently cut by the Louisiana Legislature when the coffers are running dry,” said Rashida Govan, executive director of the New Orleans Youth Alliance.

Other suggestions for the revenue were economic development (Ron Faucheux), an endowment of sorts (Virginia Miller), a rainy day fund (Dan Sullivan) and all levels of education (Sherri Tarr).

New Orleans lawyer William Aaron called for a three-way split: early childhood education, hurricane protection and crime prevention.

Louisiana state Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, right, and other representatives talk on the House floor on April 12, 2021, at the Capitol. (Photo by Travis Spradling, The Advocate)
Louisiana state Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, right, and other representatives talk on the House floor April 12, 2021, at the Capitol in Baton Rouge.

But Quentin Messer, president and CEO of the New Orleans Business Alliance, warned: “Ultimately, if the pot is divided too thinly then nothing will receive sufficient investment to make a meaningful difference.”

Making the case for the general fund, WWL television news director Keith Esparros said it’s “always tempting to dedicate that money to a certain need. Louisiana, like other states, has used that tactic to get tax increases passed. But to continue to do that handcuffs the state Legislature and prevents other perhaps more pressing issues to get the finances they need. If you don't like how your legislator is spending your money, go vote them out of office.”

Conducted online Monday through Thursday, The Times-Picayune Power Poll survey is not a scientific inquiry. But because it asks questions of the top Jefferson and Orleans parish influencers in business, politics, arts, media, nonprofits and community affairs, it does afford a fascinating and non-partisan insight into the thoughts and opinions of those who steer the region. Of 356 Power Poll members surveyed this week, 80 voted for participation rate of 22%.

In addition to sports gambling, the Legislature is considering a measure to make New Orleans and four suburban parishes – instead of the entire state - pay $2.3 billion or more for hurricane protection improvements that the federal government undertook after Hurricane Katrina. As one might expect, Power Poll members - almost all of them from Jefferson and Orleans parishes – turned thumbs down on the idea: 83 percent said the state should pay.

“It's unquestionable that that the entire state of Louisiana benefits from a strong New Orleans region, so it shouldn't be left to only those in the region to shoulder the costs of hurricane protection,” said Nathan Chapman, president of the Firmidable law firm marketing agency.

Bob Thomas, environmental communications professor at Loyola University, agreed: “The New Orleans region is strategically important to the economic well-being of the United States, especially in terms of shipping, energy supply, petrochemicals, fisheries and cultural history. Its protection is vitally important [to] the nation, and the cost of its geographic vulnerability should not be borne by our relatively small population.”

An Army helicopter hovers over the London Avenue Canal floodwall breach in New Orleans on Sept. 12, 2005, two weeks after Hurricane Katrina struck. (Photo by Alex Brandon, The Times-Picayune)

Sandy Rosenthal, founder and president of the levees.org, said neither the state nor the New Orleans area should be saddled with the payments.

“The levees failed due solely to mistakes by the federal government, specifically the US Army Corps of Engineers. This is not contested,” Rosenthal said. “In addition, almost no residents of Jefferson, Orleans or St. Bernard parish were made whole after the catastrophe.

“Therefore, the cost of the rebuilt levee system, which should not have failed, should be 100% borne by the federal government. The massive cost to maintain the new levee system - built without local input - is already a heavy burden to the above-named parishioners.”

Power Poll also asked about New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s job performance six months before she stands for reelection and for predictions of how much of the vote she will get. Almost 58 percent of respondents gave her favorable or better rating; 35 percent said unfavorable or worse. That’s a plus-23 margin.

More than 71 percent predicted Cantrell will capture 50 percent to 64 percent of the vote.

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