Is there a path for compromise on local ITEP input?

(Photography by Don Kadair) Louisiana Association of Business & Industry President and CEO Stephen Waguespack

During this year’s session of the Louisiana Legislature, the business lobby easily fought off local officials’ attempt to enshrine local control of local property tax breaks in the state constitution.

Louisiana Association of Business and Industry CEO Stephen Waguespack says constitutional restrictions on the Industrial Tax Exemption Program would put a “straightjacket” on state efforts to attract manufacturers. He says there will always be dialogue with local governments, which “has been the tradition of the Industrial Tax Exemption since the 1930s.”

But many local officials say their voices were not heard prior to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ 2016 executive order granting local control. They hoped to amend the constitution to prevent the next administration from possibly reinstating the old system, in which the state Board of Commerce and Industry and the governor had sole authority.

Sen. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs, who authored Senate Bill 151 and plans to try again next year, says no opponents suggested any compromises to make the legislation more business friendly while preserving local control. However, LABI did suggest tweaks to Edwards’ rules near the end of a 2019 policy paper.

For example, the association called for streamlining the decision-making process to a single point of contact for each parish, rather than asking companies to seek approval from individual taxing authorities. Pope says that approach, in theory, is compatible with his proposal.

However, some local government leaders are adamant about maintaining full control of their portion of the taxes. For example, the sheriff’s office and the school board might have different positions, Pope says.

Critics of the old system say the B&I board would rubber-stamp applications even if the project didn’t create jobs. Pope fears the next governor will return to that system.

“I would assume that it would be an issue in the campaign [for governor],” he says. “They would have to take a position.”