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ExxonMobil operations startup supervisor Matt Hammond, speaks during a tour of the new polypropylene production unit, an expansion project at ExxonMobil's Baton Rouge Polyolefins Plant, Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021.

A sentence of praise for the local officials involved is pretty standard in these things, but it’s worth noting one line from Jonathan Morgan, a manager at ExxonMobil’s Baton Rouge chemical plant.

It was about the good news, for the state and the region, that a half-billion-dollar expansion of the plant began operation.

“This major investment would not have been possible without the support of Gov. John Bel Edwards, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, local community members and elected officials,” the statement quoted Morgan as saying.

That line throws an important light on a question that should be asked of those now lining up to be governor of Louisiana after this fall’s election.

About half of the $500 million expansion at the plant was eligible for tax incentives under the once little-noticed Industrial Tax Exemption Program. Because Edwards changed the terms of the tax exemptions, under his constitutional authority over ITEP, big industrial concerns have had some explaining to do about the valuable breaks.

For one thing, the governor restricted breaks to actually new work instead of revisions to existing facilities, except where those would create new jobs or economic value. Biggest of all, only 80% was eligible for immediate tax breaks, meaning local governments received property tax revenues immediately.

The power of local governments to approve the agreements was also new: Previously, a state board rubber-stamped just about every tax exemption request. Local governments got some revenues from construction work and purchases but had to wait until ten years on for the big bucks, when major plants would come on to the property tax rolls.

Giving away other people’s money — local property taxes — was a sweet deal for the state. Governors and legislators could claim political credit for “economic development.”

With a series of executive orders, revising some details of the process along the way, Edwards’ changes have remade that environment. Today, the details of exemption requests are more carefully studied at the state level and local bodies — like police juries, school boards and the one-man sheriffs’ taxing districts — can reject the deals entirely.

The group leading the charge against the old giveaways, Together Louisiana, reported with great satisfaction that despite groans from industry, only a few of the exemptions have been rejected at the local level.

And in the specific case study of the ExxonMobil expansion that just began operation, not only the state but all local officials with a say in the exemptions were on board with it.

The company had been worried after the school board had rejected two unrelated exemption requests, in part because the officials questioned the practice — common pre-Edwards — of seeking the exemptions after the projects were completed.

That undermined the argument that the tax breaks were incentives, in the sense that the exemptions were supposedly needed to attract the investments that had already decided upon.

But despite the nervousness about that issue, when company officials said the new tax breaks would in fact matter to getting the investment in Baton Rouge rather than in Texas or elsewhere, local officials lined up in support.

So if Thursday’s announcement at the ExxonMobil plant was a case of the Edwards ITEP deal working perfectly, that doesn’t mean candidates to succeed him will automatically endorse keeping the restrictions on property tax breaks.

Industry may well want a better deal — and a new governor could give it to them with the proverbial stroke of a pen.