Controversy surrounding the Industrial Tax Exemption program is brewing again ahead of Friday’s state Board of Commerce and Industry meeting where the board is scheduled to take up several ITEP requests.
Community group Together Louisiana sent out an email Wednesday night, calling attention to ExxonMobil’s ITEP applications on the agenda, which the group calls “very problematic” because the projects were completed “more than 18 months ago.”
ExxonMobil spokesperson Stephanie Cargile, however, says investment decisions for those projects were being made when the ITEP rules were being revised after Gov. John Bel Edwards’ 2016 Executive Order upended the program.
“Like many other companies, ExxonMobil waited until after the new state rules were clarified and adopted before moving forward with these applications,” Cargile says. “ExxonMobil has taken the same steps as other companies with applications related to completed investments. At least one of this type of application was already reviewed and approved by the state and East Baton Rouge.”
In October, the BC&I approved a Georgia Pacific ITEP request for a project completed in late 2017 in East Baton Rouge. The project includes a $42 million investment and created 30 new jobs, but, like the upcoming Exxon ITEP requests, the Georgia Pacific project was completed before securing ITEP approval.
Last night, the Metro Council introduced the Georgia Pacific ITEP request for approval, but the sponsor, Councilman Trae Welch, deleted the item, which effectively approves the request according to state ITEP rules. Welch says he killed the item because there was no opposition to the request.
Although the BC&I agenda for Friday’s meeting includes five Exxon ITEP applications, Cargile says the company decided to only pursue three, which the board will consider:
- $64 million refinery investment that created 18 permanent jobs;
- $3 million polyolefins plant investment that creates no jobs but will help the site compete for a major polypropylene project;
- $4.3 million Port Allen lubricants plant investment that create nine permanent jobs.
But Together Louisiana, in its email, maintains there are five Exxon ITEP requests on the agenda, which would “cost Baton Rouge schools and other local bodies $22 million in lost revenue over the next 10 years.” Together Baton Rouge leader Broderick Bagert could not immediately be reached for comment.
Louisiana Economic Development officials also could not be reached by press time to confirm how many Exxon applications will be considered at the meeting Friday.
The Greater Baton Rouge Industry Alliance also put out a press release today, urging the state BC&I to approve all ITEP applications on the agenda tomorrow, saying companies looking to invest in Baton Rouge want predictable rules that are fair to all applicants.
“If we do not follow our own rules or apply them randomly based on pressure from groups using this process to advance their own political agenda, we send a strong signal to companies here and elsewhere that our laws and rules cannot be counted on,” says GBRIA Executive Director Connie Fabre in the release.