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Don't Gut NOTMC

Every dollar invested in tourism yields $15 in tax revenues.

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When Mayor Ray Nagin entered office promising to run the city like a business, we welcomed the idea of the telecommunications executive advancing New Orleans' economy in much the same way he transformed the local Cox Communications from flagging to flourishing -- through initiative and shrewd decision-making. Which is why we're perplexed at his recent proposal to halve the budget of the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corp. (NOTMC) for next year.

Nagin's move would strike a blow to New Orleans' largest, most productive industry. NOTMC exemplifies the concept of "working smart" with a resourceful, bare-bones staff that has supported and advanced all aspects of New Orleans' tourism industry, including hotels, bars, clubs, conventions, special events, museums and other attractions. Nagin's budget proposal would cut the public-private agency's funding from $1 million to $500,000.

State figures show the city's tourism industry employs 81,000 workers. Every dollar invested in tourism yields $15 in tax revenues. NOTMC especially targets "leisure tourists" -- non-business travelers who, says the University of New Orleans Hospitality Research Center, comprise 70 percent of local visitors.

NOTMC not only has made great strides in attracting more leisure tourists to New Orleans but also in encouraging them to visit a broader array of local venues. Two of NOTMC's best projects -- its Family and Museums initiatives -- have courted lucrative niche markets that, until recently, tended to bypass New Orleans. The former lures families to places such as Audubon Institute sites and Six Flags, while the latter steers history buffs toward New Orleans' cultural riches. Both initiatives could be gutted if the mayor's budget cut is adopted by the City Council, according to NOTMC.

This spring, when a national survey by AOL and Travel and Leisure magazine showed tourists gave New Orleans high marks on its attractions and nightlife -- but called us the dirtiest city in the country -- NOTMC responded by reinforcing the Vieux Carré Alliance's cleanup efforts. NOTMC strives to lure out-of-towners during traditionally slow seasons; it supports the New Orleans Police Foundation's recruitment efforts; and it works to fill our ever-growing number of hotel rooms -- 37,000-plus, at last count.

Two days after Nagin announced his budget plans, 26 local executives responded with letters urging the mayor to fully fund NOTMC. All lauded NOTMC's tireless commitment to boosting the city's tourism industry and emphasized its forward-thinking initiatives. We add our voice to the growing chorus making this appeal to the mayor: Don't take one dollar from this valuable and resourceful agency.

Murray for State Senate Voters in Orleans Parish go to the polls Saturday (Dec. 4) to fill the District 4 Louisiana Senate seat vacated by the recent election of Paulette Irons to a civil court judgeship. The bad news about Irons' departure is that women will lose a strong champion in the Senate. The good news is that, in the three-man race to replace her, everyone has a clear choice -- state Rep. Edwin Murray.

Murray, a lawyer with 13 years of valuable legislative experience in the House, is intelligent, studious and cool-headed, especially during the give-and-take of heated legislative sessions. When personalities clash and factions split, Murray can be counted on to bridge divisions and get things done for the good of the city and the state. That's why he has been a House floor leader for Gov. Kathleen Blanco (and her predecessor, Gov. Mike Foster) as well as three New Orleans mayors, including Mayor Ray Nagin.

Murray will continue the fight for women and family issues that Irons championed. He will support teen pregnancy prevention and increased access to contraception. He will continue to demand fiscal accountability from school superintendents around the state, including popular New Orleans schools chief Anthony Amato.

Of the three House bills Murray has authored in his 13-year tenure, he is the most proud of the Incumbent Worker Training Program, which he notes was originally opposed by both business and organized labor. The first of its kind in the country, the program -- which operates from the interest earned off a $1.5 billion trust fund -- decreased unemployment taxes on employers, increased unemployment benefits and established a $50 million annual fund to train incumbent workers to help grow businesses. "Our biggest problem has been spending the $50 million; we have never in one year spent the whole thing," Murray says. Once elected to the Senate, he pledges to vigorously promote the program and make sure businesses get the money to provide more jobs and better skilled workers.

As senator, Murray says, his first priorities will be to secure annual operating revenues for the maintenance of City Park. "Most people don't know that it's a state park that attracts 11 million visitors a year," he says. He will also work to clean up the French Quarter and continue to advocate development of our underskilled workforce, a major concern for local and prospective employers. The district includes Lakeview, the City Park area, and parts of Carrollton, Mid-City, Gentilly, Bayou St. John and the French Quarter. We heartily endorse Edwin Murray for Senate District 4.

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