In case you missed the article over the weekend, the Associated Press had a piece about the announcement by President Trump during his State of the Union address touting a $1.5 trillion plan to update the nation’s infrastructure, and how such a plan would affect needed improvements in New Orleans.
And it seems New Orleans’ outgoing mayor Mitch Landrieu, whose record with respect to maintenance of the city’s infrastructure can be summed up in the near-constant boil-water advisories and periodic flooding emanating from the corrupt and dysfunctional Sewerage & Water Board that Landrieu oversees as its president, doesn’t mind being considered ungrateful for the new emphasis on infrastructure.
Trump, in his speech, arrived at the $1.5 trillion number through some federal dollars, but also called on state and local governments to step up with spending of their own and, where possible, he said, private-sector investment should be encouraged.
Landrieu didn’t like that at all.
“What the president is really proposing is not HIS infrastructure plan but basically saying to the states and the cities: ‘Build it on your own and find another way to pay for it through raising taxes or cutting services,'” Landrieu, a Democrat and the current president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said Thursday.
Finding more money is a challenge in a financially strapped Louisiana – and in a city that was facing a major budget deficit when Landrieu took office eight years ago.
Landrieu said public-private partnerships can work on some types of projects where there’s money to pay back the partner, but poorer cities – often those with the biggest infrastructure problems – are going to have a harder time. Forcing cities like New Orleans to pay for the infrastructure means taking money away from other local priorities, such as housing homeless veterans, he said.
New Orleans was the recipient of more than $100 billion in federal dollars after Katrina and hasn’t even spent all of the money. In the case of the city’s drainage works it’s fairly obvious that none of that money was put toward infrastructure upgrades. And if anything, the city’s ability to provide its citizens with potable drinking water is worse now than it’s ever been.
Not to mention the ubiquitous potholes and Third World quality road infrastructure. Anyone attempting to drive through Lakeview, for example, will shortly become enraged that an American city should have streets in such a shockingly poor state of repair.
None of this comes from a lack of public dollars, mind you. New Orleans might be a poor city, but that has to do with the fact so many of its citizens earn so little money – and so many of them rely on federal subsistence programs like Section 8 housing, food stamps, Medicaid and disability payments. But the city of New Orleans itself isn’t poor. It rakes in enormous sums from the tourism industry to compensate for the poor quality of its tax base (so much of which its politicians have run off to neighboring parishes). Last year the City of New Orleans had a budget of over a billion dollars for a city of 389,000 people; it’s anything but a poor city.
And yet infrastructure has declined in the eight years Mitch Landrieu has been the mayor.
Now, with Trump advocating to pour in more than a trillion dollars’ worth of infrastructure spending when the federal government is more than $20 trillion in debt, it’s for damn sure that tight controls ought to be put in before any of that money is turned loose.
The best way to impose those tight control is to find the people stealing the infrastructure dollars already being spent and to put them in jail.
Sadly, we don’t have a U.S. Attorney in place in New Orleans, over a year after Trump has taken office. It’s hardly unreasonable to assume – given that former FBI Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey Sallet, who ran the Bureau’s New Orleans office until last year, said corruption in New Orleans couldn’t be worse – that if the Justice Department were to conduct a full forensic audit of the city’s infrastructure management there would be multiple indictments and convictions. We all know this, and nobody would be surprised to see the rot rise all the way to the top.
And now Landrieu is out poking the bear.
This ought to be a clarion call that it’s time to find the meanest, nastiest, most relentless and most aggressive SOB New Orleans has ever seen and put him in charge of the U.S. Attorney’s office in New Orleans with a special emphasis on rooting out public corruption with respect to the city’s infrastructure management. And if the obvious, rampant corruption inside New Orleans’ Department of Public Works and Sewerage & Water Board turns out to touch even the mayor himself, so be it.
It’s long overdue for the political class in New Orleans to have a reckoning. Landrieu is begging for one. The best thing Trump can do to promote improved drinking water, flood control and drivable streets is to provide that reckoning with an aggressive new U.S. Attorney in town.