In the halls of the legislature and on the steps of City Hall, in advertisements, social media and meetings with the press, Baton Rouge leaders are still at work trying to manage the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program, or ITEP, after local giant ExxonMobil failed to secure a pair of tax breaks.Did Baton Rouge voters know they were electing Broome mayor of the Exxon pep squad? Did they know how fragile their feelings were before we decided that maybe we ought to consider their tax exemptions a little bit before just approving every request by rote? Did they know how eager Broome would be to make sure their feelings were not hurt?
Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome called scores of people in the business community on Monday to City Hall, where she and her guests praised the corporation’s commitments to local investment, philanthropy and job training.
None uttered the phrase “industrial tax exemption” until prompted by reporters, but the timing was clear: Less than a week before, faith-based nonprofit Together Baton Rouge gathered at the opposite side of the building to celebrate the parish school board’s rejection of two ITEP proposals that prompted ExxonMobil to pull similar requests before they made it to the Metro Council.
When she ran for office in 2016, the mayor campaigned on setting limits for ITEP but backed off shortly upon taking office. She did not take any hard stances Monday on ExxonMobil’s applications but spoke approvingly of the Metro Council's ITEP guidelines, which will determine when an exemption is warranted.Ah yeah, gotta have those guidelines. Anything to take the actual hard work of being politically responsive to constituents such as the poor and working class people who have to pay the taxes Exxon doesn't. Better to just let BRAC set the rules and put everything on auto-pilot.
It’s a sentiment BRAC also emphasized in an open letter to the community, published in a full-page ad in The Advocate’s Sunday edition. The local ITEP guidelines might not be perfect, but the Chamber likes them well enough. The problem will be making sure the rules are strictly and uniformly enforced, not given to interpretation or political sway. The School Board rejected one ExxonMobil ITEP application even though it met all their requirements, Knapp charged, a charge that TBR contests.
Probably won't have to worry about any of this for much longer, anyway. Not if these legislators have anything to say about it.
Two Republican state lawmakers plan to file legislation that would return sole authority of the Industrial Tax Exemption Program back to the state, essentially restoring the process in place before Gov. John Bel Edwards’ 2016 executive order gave local governments a say in granting the property tax exemptions.
Sen. Mack “Bodi” White, R-Central, and Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, will co-file the bill in the upcoming legislative session, which begins April 8. They say it will restore a “consistent process” for manufacturers applying for the lucrative property tax breaks.
A "consistent process" is one where the oligarchs decide how much public money to hand over to the other oligarchs without any meddlesome input from the public whose money it is in the first place. Not very fair. But it's consistent.