Slowly but surely: Baton Rouge ITEP committee taking shape

The Business Report

Nearly a month after Mayor Sharon Weston Broome issued an executive order creating a committee to review applications for the controversial ITEP program, the panel is beginning to take shape.

Two of the four members will likely be in place by tonight, as the process for handling East Baton Rouge Parish’s newfound authority over the tax break continues at a slow pace.

The Metro Council is set to pick its member at tonight’s meeting. Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wilson, who is introducing the item, says councilmen Matt Watson and Buddy Amoroso have expressed interest. Councilman LaMont Cole also says he is would like to serve on the panel.

“I’m sure there are a couple people interested,” Wilson says. “I’ve got to talk to some people.”

Edward “Skip” Rhorer, chief civil deputy at the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office, will also serve on the committee, according to Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel, who adds the administration doesn’t yet have its designee selected. East Baton Rouge Parish School Board President Evelyn Ware-Jackson says the school board also has yet to pick its member.

Broome signed an executive order last month setting in motion the committee process, more than a year after Gov. John Bel Edwards reformed the program, allowing locals to have a say in the approvals.

It is unclear when the first ITEP application will be taken up locally, but the committee could begin its work before the end of the year. When it does, ITEP could take a radically different shape than in previous years, with some hoping that downsizing the program will help the parish get back some of the millions in tax revenue lost to the incentive.

But the committee will only make recommendations to the various governing bodies, which have the ultimate say. And many in the business community have tried to highlight the program’s value for economic development.

For decades, ITEP—a large, contentious tax break given to manufacturers for capital projects—was administered by the state, without input from locals, despite the fact that ITEP exempts local property taxes.

Edwards last year issued an executive order to rein in the program slightly and give local governing bodies the ability to approve or reject the applications. The order gave the sheriff, legislative body, school board and mayor-president in each parish a seat at the table.

But there was some ambiguity in how to move forward. The Baton Rouge Area Chamber and Together Baton Rouge, a local advocacy organization, both pushed local leaders in different directions on how to handle the process. Together Baton Rouge says in an email to supporters the key issue is the standards by which the new committee will judge ITEP applications.

“We want to make sure the council includes a firm commitment to standards in its appointment process,” Together Louisiana tells supporters.

See the full Metro Council agenda. The council meets at 4 p.m. today at 222 St. Louis St.

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