Since 2008, 62 “cultural districts” have been created in Louisiana. Of those 62, 20 are in Orleans Parish. Currently, a 63rd is being proposed for the Uptown-university area of New Orleans.
According to the Louisiana Culture, Recreation, and Tourism Department, “The primary goal of this initiative is to spark community revitalization based on cultural activity though tax incentives.” To accomplish this goal, they allow artists selling their original artwork within the districts to waive sales taxes. Also, owners of “historical” properties (i.e. 50 years old or more) can receive tax credits for renovation work.
I requested and received the annual reports for all 20 of the New Orleans districts. The data can be found here. For some reason, the Lincoln Beach district did not file a report for 2011 though. If you wish to see other years, simply change the year in the domain name.
If the goal of the New Orleans City Council is to make all of New Orleans one giant cultural district, they are well on their way.
The red blocks are the existing districts, with the blue being the newly proposed district.
I began this post with an aim different from where I wound up. Originally, I intended to dig through the annual reports to see if these districts were truly gaining anything from these special tax breaks. Also, I wanted to try and quantify the cost associated to taxpayers for these breaks. During my research though, I discovered that last Monday, July 23, 2012 was the first day of an investigative panel seeking to quantify all the tax breaks given in the entire state of Louisiana. I’ve sent an email to the head of the review committee to specifically request they not overlook the cultural districts. The results of this review are due by February 1, 2013, so I will eagerly await their report and save my time for other projects.
However, as I thought more about the issue, I realized my position had somewhat drifted. Yes, we need “to flush out low-performing and obsolete tax incentives by exploring their economic impact and value to those affected by them,” as House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, a member of the Revenue Study Commission, put it. But, we also need to use the data to better simplify the tax code so all Louisianans benefit.
After all, a tax break or incentive simply allows people or businesses who earn income to keep more of their income. That is not a bad thing. Where it can get out of hand though, is when some parties are benefiting more than others simply due to their lobbying might. I’m excited to see the commission’s results and what kind of drastic, beneficial changes can result for all Louisiana taxpayers over the next year.