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Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, speaks on the Louisiana House floor in this 2017 Advocate file photo.

Louisiana House lawmakers narrowly rejected a proposal to streamline local approval of tax breaks under the state’s controversial, decades-old Industrial Tax Exemption Program on Monday.

House Concurrent Resolution 3 by Baton Rouge GOP Rep. Rick Edmonds is the first of slew of measures aimed at cutting back local authority to receive a vote by a full chamber. HCR3 won support from a majority of House members present — 50 to 44 — but fell three votes short of the 53-vote threshold needed for passage.

For 80 years, the state had decided, pretty much automatically, to exempt corporations from a decade of paying the property taxes on which local governments rely for services in return for investing in a manufacturing facility and creating jobs. In an executive order three years ago, Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, gave each government, sheriff, school and other local taxing jurisdiction the power to review, and possibly reject, ITEP applications.

Edmonds’ resolution, HCR3, would’ve centralized local approval of the often-substantial industry property tax breaks in a single three-member committee composed of the parish president, sheriff and school board president.Edmonds' legislation would have a local board review the project rather than having each local taxing jurisdiction decide whether to forgive a manufacturer's local property taxes for 10 years in return for investing in a project that comes with jobs.

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Edmonds argued that Edwards’ reforms have created “uncertainty” for business leaders and created new challenges for economic development groups trying to entice major industries to build or expand facilities in the state.

Several major industry groups, including the Louisiana Chemical Association and Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, backed Edmonds’ proposal.

“We are seeing businesses deciding not to continue doing business in the state of Louisiana,” Edmonds contended.

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But several lawmakers pushed back against Edmonds’ criticism of local reforms. Fellow Baton Rouge Reps. Ted James and Edmond Jordan, both Democrats, questioned whether a handful of rejected ITEP applications have really discouraged industry, listing off major investments that came after a controversial East Baton Rouge School Board decision to reject two applications from ExxonMobil.

Warnings from industry groups that local control over ITEP decisions would “run everybody out of town” have proved “untrue,” said James.

“After 80-something years we’re finally negotiating with the people who actually live where the industry is,” said Rep. Malinda White, D-Bogalusa. “When it’s in your local parish, there should be some say-so.”

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James, who took the floor to argue against the resolution, urged colleagues to text their local sheriffs to ask whether they’d support watering down their authority to review the tax breaks. The Louisiana Police Jury Association, which represents local governments, has lobbied against the bill.

Despite reforms, companies are still enjoying the old days of tax break program

Edmonds called the ITEP exemption “the best tool in the toolbox” for the state and local officials “trying to bring business or keep business in the state of Louisiana” and repeatedly raised the specter of other states — chiefly Texas — using “uncertainty” over the tax breaks to lure new plants across the border.

Edmonds told The Advocate after the vote he felt encouraged it came within three votes of passing and expressed confidence he could push it through on another attempt in the coming weeks.

“I think we’ll have some folks come around,” he said.

Voting to change governor’s order on ITEP (50): Speaker Barras and Reps. Abraham, Abramson, Amedee, Bacala, Bagley, Berthelot, Bishop, Bourriaque, Carmody, S. Carter, Connick, Coussan, Crews, Davis, DeVillier, DuBuisson, Edmonds, Emerson, Foil, Garofalo, Glover, L. Harris, Henry, Hodges, Hollis, Horton, Huval, Ivey, M. Johnson, N. Landry, Mack, Magee, McFarland, Miguez, G. Miller, Jay Morris, Jim Morris, Muscarello, Pugh, Pylant, Schexnayder, Seabaugh, Stefanski, Stokes, Talbot, Thomas, Turner, Wright and Zeringue.

Voting against HCR3 (44): Reps Anders, Armes, Bagneris, Billiot, Bouie, Brass, C. Brown, T. Brown, Carpenter, G. Carter, Chaney, Duplessis, Dwight, Franklin, Gaines, Gisclair, Guinn, Hill, Hoffmann, James, Jefferson, Jenkins, R. Johnson, Jones, Jordan, LaCombe, T. Landry, Larvadain, LeBas, Leger, Leopold, Lyons, Marcelle, Marino, McMahen, D. Miller, Moore, Moss, Norton, Pierre, Pope, Smith, Stagni and White.

Not voting (11): Reps Adams, R. Carter, Cox, Falconer, J. Harris, Hilferty, Howard, Jackson, Pearson, Richard and Simon.

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Follow Bryn Stole on Twitter, @BrynStole.