ExxonMobil may have withdrawn its application for a local tax break, but advocates with Together Baton Rouge still took an opportunity to weigh in before Wednesday's Metro Council meeting to say that while the company does a lot of good for Baton Rouge, they're glad to see the proposal yanked.
Exxon had requested a pair of exemptions under the state's Industrial Tax Exemption program. The two applications, worth a combined $9.2 million, were for work at the local polyolefins plant and refinery completed two years ago.
The requests were for $64 million in spending at the Exxon refinery, which created direct 18 jobs, and $3 million in spending at the polyolefins plant, which created no new direct jobs.
The state had long controlled the program's administration but recently allowed local taxing agencies to decide whether to award exemptions. The East Baton Rouge School Board narrowly rejected Exxon's application for a tax break on their taxes last week. The Metro Council was to consider the exemption for their own collections Wednesday, but the company withdrew the application the day before.
ExxonMobil on Tuesday said it will drop its pending requests for property tax breaks in Baton Rouge and warned the “uncertainty” surrounding t…
Together Baton Rouge gathered on the steps of city hall to address reporters before the council meeting. Leaders of the faith-based nonprofit celebrated what they called a democratic new beginning to economic development, which they expect to push aside what they called "backroom deals" that long determined industrial tax exemptions. They disagreed with Exxon officials who have said the new system is unpredictable and unfriendly to business; Together Baton Rouge said the city-parish has laid out clear benchmarks for companies, and they support ITEP proposals that meet those standards, including one that passed last year for an expansion at Exxon's local polyolefins plant.
Exxon and business advocacy groups have said that criticism of ITEP has created a toxic environment. The company has said that the new system has muddied the waters and may prompt the company to direct future investment elsewhere. When contacted Wednesday, an Exxon spokeswoman and Baton Rouge Area Chamber staff said they had nothing new to add.
State Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, also waded into the debate Wednesday. Her district includes portions of northwest East Baton Rouge and near Central.
In a news release, she called the school board's decision "shortsighted" and wrote that their vote sets "an ominous tone about the future of the company."
"The school board's action is sending a message to an American company that discourages growth in the capital region," she wrote. "We can't willy-nilly yank the rug out from under a major employer like this."
Together Baton Rouge on Wednesday appeared to extend something of an olive branch. Leaders said they've worked with Exxon in the past and commended the company's philanthropy, such as supporting a North Baton Rouge food pantry.
"Our difference is a policy difference," Lee Wesley said in an interview.
He commended Exxon for pulling the proposal. Wesley said the application did not comport with the city-parish's standards, and he expected it would not pass the Metro Council, though he declined to discuss which members he expected to vote against it.
The council discussed the matter only briefly. Council member Chauna Banks said Exxon officials feel they're being unfairly targeted. She asked city-parish staff how Exxon's applications compared to one recently prepared by paper company Georgia-Pacific. The Metro Council did not vote on the Georgia-Pacific item in December, allowing it to take effect automatically. The company dropped the matter earlier this month shortly after Georgia-Pacific announced hundreds of layoffs connected to the closure of its Port Hudson plant.
Assistant Parish Attorney Tedrick Knightshead said staff had not expected or prepared to discuss the Georgia-Pacific deal, and he was not in a position to compare it to Exxon's proposal.
The council deleted the ITEP proposal items on Wednesday's agenda without further discussion.