School board to consider ExxonMobil ITEP request tonight

ExxonMobil’s request for a property tax break under the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program is not expected to encounter any stiff opposition when it goes before the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board tonight for approval.

The energy giant is seeking a 10-year abatement worth some $23 million on a proposed $240 million modernization project at the north Baton Rouge refinery that company officials say is critical to the facility’s long-term viability and competitiveness.

Earlier this month, the request was approved unanimously by the state Board of Commerce and Industry. Gov. John Bel Edwards and Mayor Sharon Weston Broom also have spoken in favor of it and several school board members have previously said they, too, support the measure.

Under changes in 2016 to ITEP, once a blanket incentive granted by the state to virtually all manufacturers, local governments can weigh in on whether to approve the abatements, which deprive local coffers of property tax revenues.

The changes also limit the amount of the exemption and try to tie the program to new projects and job creation, rather than granting it just for routine maintenance.

ExxonMobil officials say the proposed modernization is not a routine investment, as it will replace outdated equipment with new, more efficient and cleaner burning technology, though they concede it will not create any net new jobs.

The community organizing group Together Baton Rouge, which was instrumental in pushing for the reforms in 2016, is not planning to oppose the measure tonight. But the group says in a statement that elected officials should guard against returning to the practices of the past, when ITEP abatements were routinely granted with little oversight.

“There’s one way to know for sure where ExxonMobil is trying to get back on the gravy train with this latest exemption, and it’s whether they show up next year saying yet again they need more public subsidies for a ‘once in a lifetime’ investment opportunity,” the statement says. “If they do, our public officials should politely tell them those days are over. We simply cannot afford to ask our public schools and local services, never mind our local taxpayers, to cover the regular costs of business for one of the world’s largest energy companies.”

Read the full statement here.