BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Mayor-President Sharon Broome and business leaders held a press conference emphasizing the importance of cooperating with ExxonMobil at City Hall Monday.
After calling the Baton Rouge business market “uncertain” following a vote to reject a $2 million property tax break, business leaders rolled out the red carpet for the oil and gas giant.
Exxon withdrew that same tax break application from the metro council and sheriff’s office; hinting that the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board’s ITEP decision might keep them from placing a $1 billion expansion project in the parish.
Exxon says it’s planned expansion project could create almost 600 construction jobs and around 50 permanent jobs for the parish.
“We want to bring more jobs to our community which has recently lost so many,” Mayor Broome said during a pep rally of sorts on the opposite side of City Hall from where Together Baton Rouge held their press conference last week celebrating the company’s failure to secure the tax break. “We want to send up a signal that Baton Rouge is a strong and stable place to invest and to grow a company.”
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.
Mayor Broome wanted to remind Exxon that the city is “open for business.”
“They’re part of the fabric of our community. They’ve been here for over 100 years and many of our families have prospered because of their work at ExxonMobil. So we want to reaffirm our support for them as a corporate citizen,” Mayor Broome said.
Monday’s conference is part of a massive effort to support the state’s largest taxpayer.
“We’d love to have that expansion here. It means more jobs, it means an infusion into our economy," Mayor Broome said.
Two area lawmakers, Senator Bodi White and Representative Franklin Foil announced their intention to file a bill in the upcoming legislative session. The bill would reinstate old ITEP regulations, where the state decides whether large corporations should get exempted from taxes that would otherwise benefit schools, law enforcement, and city budgets. The old ITEP rules kept local entities, like the school board, from having any say.
Exxon leaders would not say for sure whether today’s meeting makes them more likely to expand in the East Baton Rouge after they praised West Baton Rouge for approving similar ITEP exemptions, but they said it’s clear the city wants their business.
“I think this meeting today helps to show that Baton Rouge is open for business and does want business and industry to invest here,” ExxonMobil public and government affairs advisor Megan Manchester said after the event. “I think this was a very positive thing – a show of support that our business leaders, as well as our community leaders, are serious about that partnership.”
School board members and ITEP opponents said they did not approve of the tax break because the work the relief was supposed to incentivize had already been completed in 2017.
A number of business leaders have encouraged Exxon to re-submit their applications to the Sheriffs and metro council, and the company will have opportunities to get other tax breaks in the future.