Councilman says "toxic climate" forced ExxonMobil withdrawal
BATON ROUGE - ExxonMobil may have had the votes for a multi-million dollar parish tax exemption at the EBR Metro Council Wednesday night but didn't want to deal with the public vitriol to get it, according to Republican councilman Dwight Hudson. The company withdrew its exemption application after losing a hard-fought battle over a similar exemption at the EBR School Board last week.
"The feedback I've received is they didn't want to come in again to a very toxic climate and have to sit through a public comment where they would be singled out," said Hudson.
Both the school board and the metro council recently adopted new guidelines for industrial tax exemptions which in most cases require companies to create new jobs to qualify. A spokesperson for ExxonMobil said the new guidelines are sustainable for the company's future investments in EBR, but doesn't think they should have been applied to pending applications.
"We just need to know when we're bringing investment here and performing outlook at the corporate level, we need to know what to expect," said spokesperson Stephanie Cargile.
Activist groups like Together Baton Rouge have waged a months-long campaign to rein in what they view as often needless tax giveaways in the exemption program at the cost of local governments. Democrat councilman Lamont Cole sponsored the guidelines adopted by the metro council.
"I think it's important we are spending or using the taxpayer dollars in a way that benefits the community," said Cole.
Governor Edwards signed an executive order in 2016 granting local governments the authority to deny industrial tax exemptions in their communities.
"It's called representative democracy, it's called transparency and accountability. I happen to believe in that," said Edwards. The Democrat governor added his appointee to the state Board of Commerce and Industry, which also heard ExxonMobil's exemption application, actually voted in its favor.
Councilman Hudson said locals should be given the opportunity to opt out of the state tax exemption program if they disagree with it and be allowed to create and administer their own.