ExxonMobil's Baton Rouge chemical plant.

BATON ROUGE IS not a predictable site for future investment. That was the message from ExxonMobil after the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board rejected two of the company’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program requests in January. ExxonMobil subsequently withdrew its pending 2017 requests before they were scheduled to be voted on by the city’s Metro Council.

“Due to the uncertainty, we will have to assume there is no ITEP incentive as we make cost projections on future investment opportunities in Louisiana,” states the release, penned by several local Exxon officials: Polyolefins Plant Manager Stephen Hamilton, Chemical Plant Manager Dave Luecke, Refinery Manager Gloria Moncada and Plastics Plant Manager Angela Zeringue.

ExxonMobil was seeking two property tax breaks worth approximately $2.9 million over 10 years—one for work at its Baton Rouge refinery; the other, for its polyolefins plant. Work for both was completed in 2017.

Which brings Baton Rouge and ExxonMobil to the billion-dollar question: What does all this mean for the petrochemical giant’s proposed $1 billion polyolefins plant expansion? At press time, the company was about to begin a funding review on the project as well as consider its site selection options.

“I can’t say that for sure,” says Stephanie Cargile, an ExxonMobil spokeswoman. “But the school board’s message will certainly weigh into that decision and future decisions.”

Cargile says the company questions why ExxonMobil is consistently “singled out by activists who haven’t protested more than 50 other similar ITEP applications that were approved statewide.”

The tax break program is regularly the subject of controversy. Community group and frequent ITEP critic Together Baton Rouge recently released a report arguing the average East Baton Rouge Parish business pays more than twice as much in property taxes on the dollar as ITEP-exempt companies, which ITEP supporters dispute.

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber in a statement called the move a “wake-up call,” noting the company has been “the picture of corporate partnership, and extremely generous in their support of community groups, charities and nonprofits, most significantly to education and education charities.” ExxonMobil invested $1 billion in capital investments in the last three years and pays $100 million in total Louisiana taxes annually. It employs nearly 7,000 people, and those jobs support nearly 1 in 8 jobs in our community.

“Community activists have targeted the ITEP program and this one company in particular with their derision, attacks and misrepresentations, fueling an anti-business sentiment today in our community,” BRAC said. “This toxic atmosphere led the school board to vote to oppose the company’s recent applications for additional investments. The tone has gotten to the point where this company has chosen voluntarily today to withdraw its application at a $6 million expense to the company, rather than continue to endure this circus.”

—Annie Ourso and Caitie Burkes