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Reining In Industrial Tax Exemptions

Governor John Bel Edwards, in cooperation with the Delta Regional Authority, announced funding Monday for seven new infrastructure projects to assist with economic development along the Mississippi River.

“Each of the 7 projects is designed to make tangible improvements to cities and towns and rural areas across our state,” the governor stated.

Include are water and/or sewerage improvements for Boyce, Grosse Tete, Paintcourtville, Jonesboro and Monroe; a small business development program for entrepreneurs, and an expansion of the Jobs for America’s Graduates program.

Meanwhile, at the state Board of Commerce and Industry, members of the grassroots advocacy group “Together Louisiana” were protesting the consideration of industrial tax exemption renewals.

“The Governor has said in his executive order what is expected in order to say yes to these, and we do not have any governmental entities that are saying that they approve,” Together Louisiana spokeswoman Dianne Hanley told the board. “And until that happens, the answer should be no.”

But board staff said the renewal requests predated the governor’s executive order, as they were filed before June 24, 2016.

Hanley said considering the renewals may not violate the letter of that order, but they certainly violate the spirit of it.

“We can take a look at how many jobs have been created. In actuality, the number of jobs of which ITEP renewal applicants exceeded or fell short is minus-824.”

Among the renewal applicants is Georgia-Pacific’s Consumer Operations Center in East Baton Rouge parish. Owned by the Koch Brothers, the facility has been exempted from paying $1.9-million in local property taxes over the past five years. While they promised to create 21 jobs, instead, they have cut 74 employees from their workforce.

“When I saw that, I mean, that’s…that don’t look too good,” Robert Adley, the governor’s representative on the board, observed.

Asked about the controversy, the governor was clear.

“There is no backtracking from what I said we will do to rein that program in; to make sure that it’s focused on job creation; and that we are not giving away local tax dollars without locals having input,” Edwards said, adding he will not approve anything that violates his order.

Ultimately, the Commerce and Industry Board voted to delay action on the requests until the industries consulted with local government, and provided proof of job creation.