It’s a new day in Baton Rouge.
On Thursday night, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board voted 5–4 to kill a set of tax break proposals being sought by ExxonMobil, according to The Advocate. The vote marked the first time in the board’s history that it’s voted against giving public money to Exxon and is the product of a legislative change that granted local governing boards the right to decide where their tax exemptions go.
The oil giant was looking to scoop up $2.6 million in school property tax exemptions for a project that was completed in 2017. Two board members cited the project’s completion as the reason for their opposition, with Dawn Collins flat-out telling Exxon there was no need for any more money, saying, “The project is done. It’s over.” The proposal was also opposed by two of the local teacher unions. According to school board member Dadrius Lanus, he was among the five “no” votes because of financial strains faced by the school system.
“I really, really want to support industry in a collaborative way in this district,” Lanus said, per The Advocate. “It’s very hard because we have a $30 million deficit, and we got a teacher shortage.” Naturally, the Exxon representative on-hand for the vote issued the age-old veiled threat that the company will only operate in places it can make money, saying it could move new operations to Texas, according to The Advocate.
It’s that exact type of economic hostage talk that led Louisiana to grant its local representatives control over where their tax dollars are spent. An executive order signed in 2016 by Gov. John Bel Edwards placed the fate of ITEP proposals in the hands of city councils, school boards, and sheriff’s offices, the bodies most affected by decades of under-funding due to ITEP turning into a scuzzy pipeline of free money for billion-dollar companies.
East Baton Rouge Parish is the largest parish government to use the new privileges provided by the order to stand up for its local workers and citizens in recent months. (In Louisiana, parishes are equivalent to counties.) It’s not the first, however: In December, the New Orleans City Council voted to approve a set of pro-worker changes to the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program. The city council decided that companies receiving ITEP funds will be required to locate new operations in economically distressed areas and pay workers a minimum wage of $18.
The fight for this parish’s tax dollars isn’t quite finished, as all taxing authorities in the East Baton Rouge Parish have to sound in on proposals that would exempt Exxon from paying the taxes that fall under their departments. As the school system declined to part with any of their school property tax funds, Exxon will now throw its lobbying efforts at the Metro Council, which votes next Wednesday, and Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, who has to vote by February. Here’s hoping they’ll follow the lead of the school board and take a stand against Big Oil.