New Orleans Has Messed up Budget Priorities

I came across this article from The Lens, and it piqued my interest, especially in light of these two articles over at Vice.  (These are the only articles at Vice I’ve ever thought were not useless hipster trash.)  According to the Lens, the Public Defenders Office was forced to cut $2.5 million out of its budget.  This resulted in over 500 indigent criminal defendants left without attorneys, furthering clogging an already clogged and overworked court system.  The city apparently could not afford to fund the PDO to the tune of its normal $9.5 million budget.

Last month, the city hosted the Super Bowl.  Mayor Landrieu made sure the airport received $300 million in renovations, while the street car system got $52 million.  Neither one of these really needed to happen, especially the airport work.  I flew out of town on Super Bowl weekend, and work was still taking place.  The airport is indeed a little nicer these days, but $300 million did not seem to go too far.  I think we really need to just construct an entirely new airport, but whatever.  The $52 million spent on the street car was equally silly.  This work has consisted of digging up the line and replacing the railroad ties, which probably did not need to happen.  They also made the decision to extend the line out to the Superdome from Canal Street.  This might be a twenty minute walk.

During the Super Bowl, January 28-February 5, local business were under orders from the city to have any “commercial signage” carry at least 60% Super Bowl advertising, and charged $150 for a permit to do so.  The city tried to ban “signs, inflatables, cold air balloons, banners, pennants, flags, building wraps, A-frame signs, projected image signs, electronic variable message signs except for those sanctioned by the city and the National Football League.” The ACLU sued to protect the 1st Amendment rights of New Orleanians to post signs saying “Fuck Roger Goodell” and flyers with the commissioner’s picture on it saying “Do Not Serve This Man” on restaurants.

The city spent at least $352 million on renovations that either did not need to happen, or should have taken place years ago after Katrina.  USA Today estimated that the game brought in over 150,000 visitors and $452 million dollars.  But for some reason the city can’t find $2.5 in order to protect the constitutional rights of criminal defendants.  The sad fact is that most of these folks are probably poor and black, which is a very bad combination to be in New Orleans.  I love this city, but things need to change.  Mayor Landrieu should prioritize the PDO, which is necessary to ensure folks the right to an attorney and a speedy trial over making things slightly more convenient for tourists.

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