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2.6.05

Louisiana Boardwalk depends upon Red River Entertainment District

The Louisiana Boardwalk is off to an excellent start, but is it inherently able to deliver on its promises of economic development?

Large sales numbers may be nice, but they constitute just one part of the development puzzle. To understand the situation in this metropolitan area, we must take into account two facets.

Beginning with the most parochial, we must note that there exists a fundamental mismatch between the philosophy behind the Louisiana Boardwalk and the current main economic engine of Bossier City – gambling (sorry, “gaming;” gambling is supposed to be suppressed according to our state Constitution). The Boardwalk gets marketed as an all-inclusive, “family” destination. By contrast, gambling is, by its nature, an adult vice.

The dream behind the Boardwalk includes the attraction of people of all ages to find amusement through various outlets. But we must face the fact that only a small percentage of its patrons are going to come from outside the metropolitan area just to go to it. The main reason outsiders people visit Bossier City is the casinos.

To the majority of people who come from, for example, the Metroplex, shopping, dining, movies, clubs, etc. is something they can do at home. In Bossier City, then, they try to maximize their opportunities to do the one thing they cannot at home, gamble. Further, not to sound denigrating, but most people who like to gamble enough to build vacations around it are not generally going to be as interested in raising children or bringing them along with them on their gambling sprees.

In short, the philosophy behind the Boardwalk matches up poorly with the intentions of the main source of visitors from outside the area. Since it will attract few on its own merits, there is only one real way it can spur economic growth without otherwise poaching customers from existing Bossier City business – getting them from Shreveport.

This brings us to the larger point – the economic fortunes of the cities are too intertwined to make Bossier City beggaring Shreveport a viable development strategy. Another current fact of life around the area is that one takes away the casinos and Bossier City is mainly a bedroom community to Shreveport. Subtracting casinos from both sides of the river, while Bossier Parish’s population is 39 percent of Caddo’s, it only has 23 percent as many jobs as Caddo (with casinos, the figure rises to 28 percent; 2002 data). Further, per capita Caddo’s property assessments are only 83 percent of Bossier’s – because with a higher proportion of property being the more valuable commercial kind in Caddo, the per person rate becomes lower.

That means, in the final analysis, drawing in sales tax revenues from Caddo residents only marginally improves Bossier City’s position – because Bossier depends upon Caddo’s economy and taking dollars out of that economy harms Bossier. Thus, pursuit of an economic development strategy in isolation within the metropolitan area will have less chance of success.

Interestingly, Shreveport’s troubled Red River Entertainment District presents a better fit with the dominant gambling industry with a more “adult” theme to it and is located within easy walking distance of the casinos. It has had its own problems, however.

First, unfortunately people in this area of the country are lazy when it comes to walking. It does get hotter in the summer but people in large cities across the country think nothing of walking several blocks from parking or mass transportation to a destination. But the mentality that one has to be able to hop out of his car and walk briefly to an entrance has a strong hold in the south and even if the District claims there are 2,000 parking spots nearby, in reality considering the District and casinos are crowded at the same time (night, especially weekend) within a block of it there might be 150 spaces.

Second, there is a perception of a lack of safety mainly because of crowds of youngsters nearby and past unfortunate events such as shootings in the area. Doing such things as blocking off Commerce Street and increased police presence have been implemented but the reputation lingers.

The Boardwalk has dealt with these potential problems by having its own large parking garage next to the facility (courtesy of Bossier City) and implementing a code of conduct (which already has spawned urban legends). But these have an effect of reducing synergy with the surrounding environment, and only by connecting it to the larger world will it bring Bossier City its envisioned tax receipts.

Therefore, the Boardwalk would maximize its economic growth potential by being connected not just to the District, but the casinos downstream. Talk of a water taxi across the Red River should be supplemented with improving pedestrian facilities across the Long-Allen Bridge and access from it to each area, even including surface mass transit. The Bossier “Boardwalk” could be extended under I-20 to the casinos.

In short, this will require cooperation between Shreveport and Bossier City, not a dominant theme between the two in the past. Seeing the big picture, not building a hotel here and providing infrastructure there without a vision based on limits and reality, is needed, and that would require thinking atypical of past political leadership on both sides

1.6.05

SB 120 cut taxes to help society's most vulnerable

As the committee work winds down in the Legislature, signaled by the attention now being given the budgets, almost all of the measures to revise the problems created by the Stelly Plan look like they will die quiet deaths (with the exception of SB1 which died a very public one). In fact, only one bill really has a chance to pass into law – one that corrects one of the greatest inequities of the tax revision.

The Stelly Plan eliminated the use of any “excess” deductions from federal income taxes, so people with a high amount of deductions could not also write these off on state taxes. For an unlucky few, some had high deductions because of medical expenses.

While there are some who can’t control their appetites for food or nicotine and thereby create health problems for themselves (or, worse, the taxpayers when they make them pay for their indulgences), the vast majority of health care expenses are from unavoidable bad luck. Something the supporters of the 2002 measure did not realize that some families have crushing expenses in this regard (unless you are around the poverty level and below and then the government pays for everything) which can reduce living standards of even the highest-income families close to poverty level in the worst cases.

One compensating factor has been the ability to write off the expenses on federal taxes which for even the lowest-middle class income would have to be astronomical to completely offset federal income tax owed. At the state level, a middle-income family could get a tax break of hundreds of dollars if the rule is changed back prior to the 2002 measure (which, for example, would pay for 20 hours of skilled nursing, or one two-week supply of respiratory medicine).

SB 120 is the bill that would do this. It’s cheap (relatively, in large part because it is being phased in over 10 years) with an estimated price tag of $380,000 and would provide valuable assistance to those and their families who are the most vulnerable in our society. Right now it sits idly in the Senate, having passed out of committee, waiting for enlightened leadership to bring it out and wise voting to pass it on to the House.

Not only then must the House pass it, but Gov. Kathleen Blanco unconscionably seems to oppose the bill which may require even more Legislative support to override a potential veto (we can only hope Blanco never has to experience what these families are going through, because perhaps then she would change her mind on this).

Time is running out, with only about three weeks to go in the session, to get this important bill through the process. It’s too bad other revisions won’t make it, but let’s hope lawmakers get moving on this exceptionally important alteration to the Stelly Plan.

31.5.05

Blanco needs to fix Foster's divot with creative thinking

I know I was dreaming big in the previous post when I hoped Gov. Kathleen Blanco could drive New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson back to the bargaining table with a huge income tax increase on his employees. I don’t think Blanco has the nerve to threaten such a special session and I’m unsure whether she could get the two-thirds votes necessary to do it.

Perhaps more realistic is today’s suggestion, to address the problem the state has with another deal negotiated by the Mike Foster Administration (which, unlike the Saints deal, he has failed to defend so far), the guaranteed payment for golf rounds played at the Tournament Players Club in Avondale. If local hotels can’t sell them, then the state must reimburse the course in the first year for unplayed rounds.

The contract seems pretty strict. The state can’t resell them and it can’t give them away. With these parameters, it would seem the state’s only option is to use them in-house, if they get used at all.

So, here are some suggestions for the state to use up these several thousand rounds:

  • For starters, round up all the juveniles from the correctional institutions in Special School District #1, house them near Avondale, and tell the 75 or so of them they can play as many rounds on the state’s tab as they want for as long as they want (this would make Caddy Day at Bushwood seem like a Sunday school class)
  • Next, Blanco should tell Agriculture Secretary Bob Odom that his managers/construction workers need a break from their hard labor building useless sugar mills, and that he needs to fly the lot of them to Avondale several times for some golf. Threaten some line item vetoes if, as usual, he wants to do things his way.
  • Finally, Blanco should make a deal before the end of the session that every legislator gets a free round for every $100 million they vote to cut from the state budget (although, more realistically, she’ll probably dangle them out to entice them to pass her cigarette tax).

    Among all of these, that either will use up all the rounds and greatly inconvenience the club or it will provide incentive for the club to renegotiate. Except when referring to tobacco companies, Blanco’s too nice; she needs to start cracking the whip instead of throwing up her hands and having her surrogates agree “it’s a horrible contract.”

  • 30.5.05

    On budget matters, Blanco thinks Louisanans are fools

    Is Commissioner of Administration Jerry Luke LeBlanc just an idiot, or does he presume to take us for being ones? That the only two possible conclusions one can draw from his statements in front of the Senate Finance Committee during a special Sunday session:

    Commissioner of Administration Jerry Luke LeBlanc told a Senate panel that the state can either raise taxes or raid health care to increase teacher pay. He made it clear which scenario the governor supports.

    "She will not do anything that pits teachers in a fight with sick people for an increase," LeBlanc told the Senate Committee on Finance.

    Let me get this straight, out of a budget with $18+ billion in it, everything else in it is so important – building sugar mills, lakes, tossing out goodies to legislators, paying professional sports teams, etc. just to name a few things that seem safely ensconced in budgets and bills – that our two least important priorities are full funding of health care and teacher raises, and that unless we raise taxes one of these has to go?

    No, we’re not that stupid to buy into the false dichotomy LeBlanc presents us. And if Leblanc and his boss Gov. Kathleen Blanco are stupid enough to actually believe this, I’ll be glad to raise their intelligence on this matter with two suggestions so they can have both (whether the teacher raise is deserved is another matter entirely), one of which requires no new taxes, and another which does but in a way which may solve the problem without ever having to implement it.

    Why does Blanco continue to refuse to implement the conclusions from studies on efficiency in nursing home reimbursement fiscal structures which would save just about $100 million, the same amount of money she initially proposed for teacher raises? Indeed, she seems to have abandoned her efforts to bring about badly-needed reform in this area that is costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year and now seems to be drifting in the opposite direction.

    And one (relatively) small but vexing problem has been $15 million or so a year the state looks to be forced to pay out to the New Orleans Saints for the next several years under an ill-advised contract designed to assist the team. The revenue sources for this amount have fallen below expectations so the difference (now around $10 million annually) will have to be made up by state taxpayers.

    For months Blanco has tried to get Saints owner Tom Benson to renegotiate, but not long after the bill-filing deadline he broke them off. Instead of proposing new broad-based taxes, here’s what she needs to do: announce now publicly she will call a special session with one item only, a bill to raise income taxes on any employee of a professional sports team making over $100,000 a year (which means only the Saints and New Orleans Hornets, who have their own sweet subsidy deal as well) from the current 6 percent to the 25 percent level, including any bonuses paid out.

    Being that the Saints had a 2004 payroll around $73 million (of which all players make well over $100,000), that would pump an additional $12 million or so into state coffers, enough to make up the subsidy shortfall. Better, given the options of leaving New Orleans in a couple of years at the earliest and losing the subsidy (and other penalties applying like paying a buyout), or massive, expensive and inconvenient restructuring of contracts to be able to shield only part of that money, or hurrying back to the negotiating table, you can bet Benson will be begging Blanco to restart the bargaining.

    Maybe Blanco and LeBlanc feel they can insult Benson with this threat, but they better not dare think they can insult the state’s citizens with the straw man argument about priorities in state spending they are trying to get us to buy.

    29.5.05

    The Meaning of Memorial Day

    This column publishes every Sunday through Thursday after noon U.S. Central Time (maybe even after sundown on busy days) except whenever a significant national holiday falls on the Monday through Friday associated with the otherwise-usual publication on the previous day (unless it is Independence Day or Christmas when it is the day on which the holiday is observed bu the U.S. government). In my opinion, there are five of these: Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas.

    With Monday, May 30 being Memorial Day, I invite you to explore the link above.