An un-elected, largely un-accountable board in Baton Rouge that forgives corporate property taxes statewide in the name of job creation as part of a business-incentive program that came under fire last year actually gave away more in tax breaks than ever before, in spite of a decree by the governor that the program be reformed. That’s the conclusion issued Tuesday by Together Louisiana, a consortium of more than 250 civic groups and religious congregations that focuses on issues such as tax fairness, workforce development, criminal justice reform and access to health care and food for the poor and working poor.
In a status update report issued today titled “The Ship is Not Yet Turning,” Together Louisiana says the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program administered by the Commerce & Industry Board forgave $4.9 billion last year despite widespread calls — and an executive order by Gov. John Bel Edwards — to reform the boondoggle of a program.
Late last spring, Together Louisiana released a scathing report titled “Costly & Unusual” detailing how the un-elected Commerce & Industry Board has forgiven roughly $16.7 billion in local governments’ property tax revenue — all in the name of job creation — for a cost of about $535,000 per job created. The kicker: local governments have no say in the matter.
On the heels of that report, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed an executive order that was supposed to give local taxing bodies veto power over ITEP within their jurisdictions, and decreeing that all ITEP contracts include a cooperative endeavor agreement outlining job creation and -retention criteria companies receiving the tax exemptions promise to meet.
But as Together Louisiana reports today, neither is happening as directed, resulting in the largest give-away of local taxes — taxes for local roads, bridges, schools, health units and niceties — ever in the history of the state:
Last year, in 2016, the Commerce and Industry Board approved more in industrial tax exemptions than ever before, approving $4.9 BILLION in exemptions. That’s just last year.
That’s more in exemptions than has EVER been approved, under Governor Jindal or under any other governor in Louisiana’s history. That is more than 4 times the annual average over the prior 15 years. It’s actually 7 times the rate approved during Governor Jindal’s first term in office 8 years ago.
[O]ur state currently faces a $304 million budget deficit for 2016. In the same year that we have a $304 million budget deficit, our state approved $4.9 BILLION in new tax exemptions — 16 times the amount of the deficit.
The reason the industrial tax exemption program has not begun to turn around is that the Commerce and Industry Board is not enforcing the rules our governor has put in place aggressively enough, creating loopholes as big as tunnels.