Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson's talks with local government and economic development officials at the LITE Center in Lafayette during his business recovery tour in Acadiana Wednesday, August 24, 2016, to discuss flood recovery options and opportunities for business owners.

The Edwards administration wants to alter, again, the lucrative tax break for industrial manufacturers.

The proposal released Wednesday would return the Industrial Tax Exemption Program, called ITEP, to a 10-year break on paying local property taxes, which is the way it had been for decades until last year’s changes. Instead of a term of five years at a 100 percent write-off of property taxes with the ability to apply for three more years at 80 percent, the new ITEP would offer a single 10-year term at 80 percent of the property taxes owed.

This formula would allow local governments to start immediately receiving revenues to help pay for the roads and schools needed by the newly hired workforce at the new manufacturing facility receiving the tax breaks, said Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson, author of the administration’s proposed changes.

Additionally, local governments would keep their newly acquired voice albeit as an up or down vote on the contracts put together by the state, he said.

“This pathway that we have outlined streamlines the process,” Pierson told The Advocate. “The yield is going to provide immediate revenues to the community, a sure timeline for industry, all of which should be very welcome.”

Pierson presented the proposals to the Board of Commerce & Industry, describing the new procedures as “process improvements,” a natural step in standard managerial practices.

There’s been confusion and worry since Gov. John Bel Edwards, a few months after taking his oath of office in 2016, stepped in and grabbed the rudder of a program that operated for decades with little oversight. He ordered that companies seeking the tax break get approval from the various local taxing districts – school boards, municipalities, parishes, and the like – before Board of Commerce & Industry could grant the ITEP.

Parishes with large industries already, like Ascension and St. James, quickly got organized and created easy-to-follow processes. Other localities without much experience had a tougher time.

Additionally, each local taxing district often wanted to cut its own deal, leaving assessors juggling dozens of different tax rates for the same property. And industries wanted more stability and firmer timelines.

Edwards issued orders in 2016 and 2017 to tighten the tax giveaway by tying it closer to job creation, ending automatic renewals, eliminating breaks for routine maintenance projects, and giving local governments, for the first time, say so over the local taxes the state was giving away to attract and retain the big industrial manufacturers and refineries.

Pierson said the governor asked LED to do a comprehensive study, talking to all the parties, and come up uniform procedures.

The proposals would streamline the application process, which would include listing the investment, jobs and payroll that the company agrees to provide in return for the tax break. LED staff would vet the numbers and set up a contract.

The state would then present the proposed ITEP contract to local tax authorities, which would need to hold a hearing and vote whether to reject the offer. This gives industries a stable timeline of 30 or 60 days to hear the outcome. If a local taxing authority opts out, whatever property tax millage assigned to the district would still be collected. But it would keep out the confusion of each tax district setting their own rate.

Pierson said he expects everyone to like some of the changes and hate others.

Together Louisiana, a coalition of faith-based and community activist groups that has been quite critical of how ITEP has operated over the years, is withholding comment until they see the details, said Broderick Bagert, an executive director of Together Louisiana.

The Commerce & Industry board, which oversees incentives given companies for investing in Louisiana, accepted receipt of the proposals despite some opposition that it was all moving too fast. Robert Adley, who represents Edwards on the board, asked that the proposed rules be vetted by a committee before the entire board votes on them.

“I agree with the concept, particularly the 80-20 that the governor came up with,” Adley said. “But the devil is in the details. How is it going to operate? What does local government receive from us?”

Pierson said the proposals were drafted after talking with industry executives, business association representatives, advocates like Together Louisiana, officials at all levels of government and the people who actually work with companies looking for sites for their plants.

“I don’t think we need another eight or 12 months,” Pierson said. He hopes to traverse the public hearings and comments required under state law within 60 days so that the board can vote on the rules in June. “I’d like to see them go into effect by mid August,” Pierson said.

East Baton Rouge industrial tax exemption proposal released but on hold

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.