BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The East Baton Rouge School Board rejected an Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) after nearly three hours of debate Thursday night. It’s the first time the board has rejected an exemption since the governor granted local entities some say in the matter with a 2016 executive order.
Exxon requested the exemption, worth about $2 million over ten years, for work completed in 2017. In December, Exxon representatives told the Louisiana Board of Commerce and Industry they delayed requesting the exemption as a show of good faith so locals could have a chance to approve the plan after Governor John Bel Edwards' rule change.
The rule change allowed sheriffs, school boards, and metro councils to decide whether they would collect their share of the property tax. The state board of commerce also gets a say, as it always has.
“Now we have a voice,” said Together Baton Rouge leader, Dianne Hanley. “It’s a new day and a new way of looking at economic development.”
Together Baton Rouge has been among ITEP’s loudest critics, arguing the money should be invested into local schools, law enforcement, and infrastructure instead of given to massive corporations. Exxon is the state’s largest taxpayer.
“Unfortunately, the vote of five school board members last night sent the message across the state and Gulf Coast that Baton Rouge is not a predictable site for future investment,” Exxon representatives said in a statement Friday.
“Earlier this week, West Baton Rouge Parish leaders unanimously approved ExxonMobil’s Industrial Tax Exemption request (ITEP) for competitive project investments made in 2017 at the Port Allen Lubricants and Aviation facility,” the statement continued. “The stable, welcoming business environment we experienced in West Baton Rouge Parish is vital for ExxonMobil to win projects.”
The company is looking to expand operations in south Louisiana with a proposed $1 billion polyolefins plant and will begin looking for a location next week.
The metro council is expected to debate the same exemption next week. East Baton Rouge sheriffs have not made a decision yet either.