1. THE RED INK FLOWS ON
Gov. John Bel Edwards and officials of his administration appeared at hearings of the state House Appropriations Committee last week to lay out another dire scenario for the current fiscal year's budget: an immediate $313 million cut, followed by another $300 million shortfall next fiscal year. The reason, officials said, was lower-than-expected revenues from corporate and personal income taxes. Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said the predicted 2017 shortfall likely will bring proposals that will result in additional cuts to higher education in the state, as well as hospitals. Looks like 2017 will be — at least fiscally — a repeat of previous draconian cuts.
2. Quote of the week
"I rise today to speak on the Senate floor for the last time." — U.S. Sen. David Vitter last week, delivering his farewell address to a mostly empty chamber. Vitter, who served 12 years in the Senate, said, "Americans of all backgrounds think Washington is on a different planet and members of Congress just don't get it." CNN reporter Manu Raju reported no Democrats and only three Republicans showed up for Vitter's goodbye speech; among them was Louisiana's junior Sen. Bill Cassidy.
3. Edwards: There is no fiscal St. Nick
"There is no Santa Claus." Those were the words of Gov. John Bel Edwards on Dec. 8 when he spoke to the annual meeting of the Council for A Better Louisiana (CABL) about the state's daunting fiscal challenges. Edwards said he will ask lawmakers to enact sweeping tax and budget reforms next year, and he urged CABL members to encourage lawmakers to get behind the recommendations put forth recently by a special task force on budget and tax reform. "People want a certain level of services," Edwards said, "but there is a cost associated with all of those things."
4. New sites considered for homeless shelter
New Orleans District B City Councilmember LaToya Cantrell and Mayor Mitch Landrieu have butted heads over the proposed location of a low-barrier homeless shelter, but Landrieu now is considering two additional sites. Cantrell opposed Landrieu's choice for a space on Erato Street. She suggested the city repurpose the former Temporary Detention Center on Perdido Street instead. Administration officials asked the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority to delay a vote on the $750,500 purchase of the Erato site. The administration now is considering the former Israel Augustine Middle School, as well as the former VA building, which, according to Cantrell, was among her ideas before the Landrieu administration selected the building on Erato.
In October, Cantrell told Gambit she had been "shut out" of discussions about the location. Cantrell says the Erato location would not be able to provide a sobering and detoxing center, among other services. "It's welcoming news to hear that the Mayor's Office is considering alternative properties to the Erato site," she said in a Dec. 7 statement. "These services would address the root problems — mental illness and addiction — that cause homelessness."
5. Council may halt nonprofit fee waivers
Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration wants to halt special event waivers and discounts given to nonprofit organizations for festivals and other events — at a cost of more than $2 million since 2015. The New Orleans City Council routinely waives those fees, from parade licenses for second lines to usage fees for fairs and festivals, as well as alcohol permits.
At the Council's Governmental Affairs Committee Dec. 6, Deputy Mayor of External Affairs Ryan Berni presented two plans: one would lower alcohol license fees for events; another would apply a 50 percent discount on all fees and eliminate waivers. More than 80 percent of waived fees are from alcohol permits, Berni said. The city could set a $100 or $200 processing fee with a $25 or $50 alcohol license. If it eliminated all waivers and applied a 50 percent across-the-board discount, the city anticipates $1.4 million in revenue.
"They are receiving full city services — police protection, fire protection, lights, streets — and they're paying nothing," At-Large Councilmember Stacy Head said, adding that fees paid to the city for events could help fund the Louisiana SPCA, short-term rental enforcement, a monitor for living wage ordinance, housing studies and other city services.
6. Trump stumps in Baton Rouge
President-elect Donald Trump made a quick stop in Baton Rouge Dec. 9 to urge Louisianans to vote for state Treasurer John Neely Kennedy to replace outgoing U.S. Senator David Vitter. Trump was two hours late, giving Vitter, U.S. Reps. Garret Graves and Ralph Abraham, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, state Attorney General Jeff Landry and Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant plenty of time to warm up the crowd.
U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise introduced Trump, who praised Kennedy before launching into his familiar stump speech, promising to "build the wall" and suggesting there should be penalties for burning the American flag. His promise to "drain the swamp" in Washington, D.C. was popular with the south Louisiana crowd, which chanted, "Drain! The! Swamp!"
7. Chris Rock and a planned "Blackout"
Almost immediately after comedian Chris Rock announced that his "Total Blackout" tour would be coming to the Saenger Theater next year, the venue added a second date for the comic's first standup tour in nine years. Rock will be at the Saenger March 25-26; tickets are on sale now.
8. Stevie Nicks, Pretenders, Bryan Ferry coming in March
Fleetwood Mac favorite Stevie Nicks will team with the Pretenders for a show at Smoothie King Center March 15, 2017. Nicks last played New Orleans in 2012 on a bill with Melissa Etheridge and Gladys Knight. On March 16, solo crooner and Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry comes to the Saenger Theater as part of his world tour. Tickets for Ferry are on sale now, while Nicks/Pretenders tickets go on sale Dec. 12.
9. Hogs, Buku announce 2017 lineups
Shovels & Rope, London Souls, Futurebirds and others will perform at the barbecue-themed fundraiser Hogs for the Cause, which moves to the grounds of the UNO Lakefront Arena March 31-April 1, 2017. There will be three music stages at the festival's new location, says event cofounder Becker Hall. After several years at New Orleans City Park's festival grounds, the event is moving to the Lakefront. "It's hard to give up 'City Pork,'" Hall says. "That was a natural." Hogs for the Cause raises funds to support families with children battling pediatric brain cancer. It has supported more than 400 families since its founding.
Meanwhile, rappers Travis Scott, Young Thug, 21 Savage and Vince Staples lead a lineup with electronic powerhouses deadmau5 and Zeds Dead for the sixth annual Buku Music + Art Project, which returns to Mardi Gras World March 10-11, 2017. A full lineup will be forthcoming after the first of the year.
10. Here comes Santa Claus (x 4,000)
Fair warning: The 6th annual "Running of the Santas" is set for Dec. 17 in the Warehouse District, and 4,000 costumed St. Nicks are expected to run (and sometimes stagger) down the streets. It kicks off at 11 a.m. with an after-party at 5:45 p.m. at Generations Hall featuring Flow Tribe and Category 6. More information: www. runningofthesantas.com.