After the governor's office on Wednesday announced proposed changes to the way the state handles industrial tax exemptions, the East Baton Rouge Metro Council paused its own process for determining how to award those tax abatements.
The council's proposed rubric shows how at least one councilman would have addressed the tax issue and prompted backlash from community organizers who found the city-parish plan insufficient.
For years, the state Industrial Tax Exemption Program allowed manufacturers to forgo local property taxes in an effort to spur economic growth. However, groups like Together Baton Rouge have criticized the arrangement, saying the tax breaks are hurting public services like schools. Gov. John Bel Edwards had committed to giving local tax-collecting agencies a say in their tax breaks.
He backed off the position on Wednesday when the administration instead pitched an 80 percent write-off for qualified companies. Locals would then give an up or down vote on the state's ITEP contracts.
The Edwards administration wants to alter, again, the lucrative tax break for industrial manufacturers.
Before Edwards released the new plan, however, Metro Councilman Matt Watson and school board member Michael Gaudet introduced their own proposal for granting tax abatements. Those bodies, as well as the sheriff's office, all collect property taxes and decide whether to grant exemptions for projects currently participating in ITEP. Watson and Gaudet proposed a rubric to guide which applicants would be accepted.
Companies would be able to see between 50 and 100 percent of their property taxes waived if they meet certain benchmarks. The property owners could make capital investments in their property, hire more workers or add environmental controls above the minimum state requirements. Watson proposed installing the matrix for at least two years.
Members of Together Baton Rouge opposed Watson's plan, though several decided not to speak at Wednesday's council meeting upon hearing the proposal was on hold. The organization has criticized the matrix, writing that it would allow "exemptions at 100 percent in most instances, without any requirement for the applicant company to create jobs or produce a return on investment," they wrote in a Tuesday news release.
"I'm not seeing the 'Woe is Exxon' story. They can afford to pay their taxes," said Jennifer Carwile of Together Baton Rouge.
Several business leaders, including Exxon staff, attended Wednesday's meeting but did not take a turn at the lectern.
Council members did not discuss the merits or drawbacks of the Gaudet-Watson proposal. When the matter came up for consideration Wednesday, Watson deleted the item until the city-parish can see how Edwards's new proposal plays out.
"It's a moot point to proceed with the legislation at this point," Watson said.
He re-introduced the item so it can be discussed at the next meeting on May 9.
"I'm just kind of waiting for what the governor does," Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis remarked.
Councilman Buddy Amoroso said he'd like to collaborate with the governor but noted that the administration didn't ask the city-parish about ITEP the first time they tried to change it, and they haven't asked East Baton Rouge politicians to come to the table now that they want to shake it up again.