1. And they're off! Louisiana Legislature opens 2017 session
Gov. John Bel Edwards had a message for Republicans opposing his plans for tax reform: Chart a new path.
The call to action came during his State of the State address — the second of Edwards' tenure — that opened the 60-day Louisiana Legislature's 2017 regular session April 10. Much of the speech centered on the governor's proposals for tax reform, which includes eliminating one penny of the five-cent sales tax and implementing a commercial activity tax (CAT) on businesses.
A tax on commercial activity would measure gross receipts at various levels, with smaller businesses getting hit significantly less. A gas station with $500,000 in taxable gross receipts would only pay $250, noted the governor by way of example, while a doctor's office with $2.5 million in fees would be taxed $1,500.
Edwards addressed Republicans and their steady opposition to his efforts, saying he was open to compromise but added he had seen "very little constructive input and no constructive action."
Edwards also hawked several non-fiscal proposals to the Republican-dominated body, including equal pay legislation for women and criminal justice reform. He said his initiatives for the criminal justice system, which include "cleaning up" the criminal code and broadening probation eligibility, would reduce the state's prison population by 13 percent and save $300 million over 10 years. On equal pay, the governor said the state should be "offended" by its wage gap, noting that Louisiana has the highest gap in the nation, with a woman making 66 cents for every $1 a man makes. Edwards also called for an $8.50 minimum wage floor over the next two years. — WILLIAM TAYLOR POTTER | MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE
2. Quote of the week
"I wrote him a letter and I asked him to look out your window, look at the statue of Jackson there at the White House because Andrew Jackson in Jackson Square is next in New Orleans if we don't do something." — Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, describing the letter he said he wrote to President Donald Trump, asking Trump to intervene in New Orleans' ongoing controversy over removing Confederate-era monuments. Nungesser told WVUE-TV his office was looking into ways to block the removal. Last week, he told Gambit he was personally calling back every constituent who contacted his office about the issue.
3. AG Landry sues Gov. Edwards — again
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry filed a lawsuit against Gov. John Bel Edwards over Edwards' withholding of $4 million in escrow that Landry says should be used to fund his Department of Justice (DOJ). Landry filed the suit in state court in Baton Rouge April 11, arguing the money from a 2014 pharmaceutical settlement should be released to Landry's office for spending. Edwards has cited state law in claiming the settlement should be sent to the state treasury and put into the state's general fund — not into Landry's coffers. "Landry is going to great lengths at the taxpayer's expense to protect an escrow account that doesn't belong to his department while the rest of state government is taking a spending cut," Edwards said in a statement.
Landry and Edwards also are in the middle of a debate over the governor's executive orders on LGBT anti-discrimination language in state contracts. According to the results of a recent poll from LSU, more than two-thirds of Louisianans agree transgender people should be protected from discrimination in the workplace. Poll results included a majority of Democrats (83 percent) as well as Republicans (59 percent).
4. Roundtable tackles homeownership for
communities of color
At a roundtable discussing racial wealth inequality April 18, speakers from several local housing advocacy and neighborhood groups will propose solutions to a persistent problem: lack of access to homeownership for communities of color.
According to a release about the event, 43 percent of African-American households and 33 percent of Latino households own their homes, compared to 54 percent of white and Asian households. A recent Institute for Policy Studies report found that at current growth rates, it will take black families 228 years to reach the same levels of wealth that white families enjoy today.
Speakers at the panel include representatives from New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, Louisiana Housing Corporation, HousingNOLA and Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance. The talk begins at 11:30 a.m. at Ashe Cultural Arts Center (1712 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.).
5. Public meeting on French Quarter plan April 18
Another public meeting on a controversial infrastructure improvement plan in the French Quarter is set for April 18. The plan calls for a massive overhaul of Bourbon Street from Canal to Dumaine streets, replacing the road with white concrete during an eight-month period beginning later this month. At a public meeting April 4, residents complained about potential road closures, economic repercussions from the street's conversion to a pedestrian-only mall, handicap access, potential interruptions to delivery service and other concerns.
The meeting begins at 6 p.m. at St. Jude Community Center (400 N. Rampart St.).
6. Artist residence
to open in Treme
The former Andrew J. Bell Junior High School has been converted into housing and workspace for low- to moderate-income New Orleans artists and "culture bearers." Developers are accepting applications for tenants to move in as early as June. Following a permitting, construction and approval process over the last few years, the Bell Artspace Campus will open 23 of its 79 planned units this summer, with additional units available in 2018.
Project manager Joe Butler told the New Orleans City Council's Community Development Committee April 12 that Artspace aims to be the "next stewards of the Bell property and what it means to the Treme community." Its mission, Butler says, is to "create, foster and preserve" local artists and arts organizations.
The building will house 47 one-bedroom rental units beginning at $486 a month, 23 two-bedroom units beginning at $714 a month, and studios beginning at $469 a month. Applications are available at www.artspace.org/bell.
Artist and activist Janelle Monae, actress Helen Mirren and political commentator Van Jones head to New Orleans universities this spring to deliver commencement addresses.
Monae — a highlight of recent Essence, Voodoo and New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festival lineups — delivers her first-ever graduation speech to Dillard University's graduating class May 13. CNN commentator Jones will speak to Loyola University New Orleans graduates May 13 and will also receive an honorary degree from the university (along with Ella Brennan, Edward "Kidd" Jordan and retired Criminal District Court Judge Dennis Waldron). Academy Award-winning actress Mirren will receive an honorary doctorate from Tulane University May 20 when she delivers the university's commencement speech.
8. New Orleans
New Orleans photographer Jonathan Bachman was named a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News Photography April 10. Bachman was nominated for his striking photo for Reuters of heavily armored Baton Rouge police officers advancing toward protester Ieshia Evans in the aftermath of the killing of Alton Sterling by police. The image appeared to have inspired, at least in part, Pepsi's disastrous recent ad with Kendall Jenner.
Some of Bachman's earliest work in New Orleans was covering the New Orleans Saints for Gambit.
9. Saints preseason
Before the full regular season schedule rolls out later this month, New Orleans Saints fans can look forward to the team's preseason lineup. In August, the Black and Gold heads to Cleveland to face the Browns, followed by the recently renamed Los Angeles Chargers. The team returns to the Superdome to face the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens before the regular season kicks off. Game dates will be announced soon.
10. Willie, Sheryl Crow, Avetts headed
to Outlaw Fest
Willie Nelson, The Avett Brothers, Sheryl Crow and Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real join the inaugural Outlaw Music Festival Tour stopping at the Shrine on Airline (formerly Zephyr Field, current home to the New Orleans Baby Cakes).
There's also food, craft beer, local artists and other festival attractions. The tour hits New Orleans July 1 (the same weekend as Essence Festival). Tickets are on sale now.