Fight underway to keep locals at table for ITEP

Staff Report

BATON ROUGE -- Sheriffs, lawmakers and other officials stood at the steps of the State Capitol last week to urge the Legislature to leave control at the local level for the state’s largest corporate tax exemption.

The proposal for a constitutional amendment has drawn strong support from sheriff’s offices statewide.

Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi outlines the reasons why he believes Louisiana lawmakers should leave control of the Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) on the local level. He spoke with other sheriffs, as well as parish presidents and legislators during a speech on the steps of the State Capitol last week.

Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi, head of the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association, led the charge for his fellow law enforcement agencies statewide.

“Before Gov. Edwards signed the executive order creating the ITEP program, the corporations would pass by the local government entities like hoboes would pass a bank,” he said.

“Prior to this order, the state rubberstamped exemptions for corporations, costing local governments millions of dollars.

“Under this executive order, we have a voice,” Stassi said. “We are an integral part of the process.”

In 2022 alone, the 20 percent that corporations owe the state will provide $4 million in tax revenue to governing entities.

“These revenues are critical for the day-to-day operations of not only law enforcement, but so many entities that make our communities grow and thrive,” Stassi said.

Senate Bill 151, sponsored by Denham Springs Republican Sen. J. Rogers Pope, calls for a constitutional amendment that would require local governmental input on the Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP).

The bill would guarantee input from local sheriffs, school boards, parishes and municipalities to approve or oppose tax breaks for manufacturers through ITEP.

An executive order Gov. John Bel Edwards issued in 2018 gave local entities a voice in the process, but it does not guarantee a future governor would keep that process in place.

Pope, a former Livingston Parish school superintendent, said he understands the budgeting issues

“This is a bill where locals have some input in how their local taxes will be spent and what directions it will be spent,” he said. “We all want business here – none of us want businesses to go away – but this is as much about locals as anything can get.

“We’ve got it down to one thing, and one thing only,” Pope said.

“If we can’t get 26 votes on the Senate side to say we can let local people control their taxes, then I’d say I’m very disappointed in the state of Louisiana, quite frankly.”

Without local input on ITEP, parishes would have no say-so in the tax exemption negotiation, Pointe Coupee Parish Assessor Jimmy Laurent said.

“Without a local voice, they can make whatever profit they want and pay nothing on property taxes,” he said.

An open letter that called for lawmakers to support the bill has drawn support from local and parish officials. 

Those officials include Plaquemine Mayor Ed Reeves, Pointe Coupee Parish President Major Thibaut, New Roads Mayor Cornell Dukes, Livonia Mayor Rhett Pourciau and West Baton Rouge Parish President Riley “Pee Wee” Berthelot. Other signees West Feliciana Parish President Kenny Havard, East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, Addis Mayor David Toups, Slaughter Mayor Janis Landry and Livingston Mayor Jonathan Taylor.

Other entities instrumental with the bill are Together Louisiana, the Louisiana Municipal Association, Louisiana Police Jury Association and Louisiana School Board Association.