Industrial tax exemption bill hits dead end in Senate

Legislation would have allowed credit for early tax payments

BATON ROUGE — A 6-1 Senate committee vote here Monday killed the effort of Cameron Parish officials to negotiate early tax payments with one of its LNG companies that is currently enjoying a 10-year property tax break.

Cameron Parish lost court battles that would have allowed it to negotiate with Cameron LNG to pay a fixed amount now instead of at the end of its exemption, but took its effort to the Legislature last year. The legislation it needed passed the House, but never made it out of the Senate.

Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, attempted to give Cameron what it needed this year, but the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee rejected a proposed constitutional amendment designed to give the parish the authority it needed.

Once the amendment (Senate Bill 294) was defeated, Walsworth’s companion statute (S.B. 346) wasn’t even considered.

“This is just another tool in the tool box,” Walsworth said. Local governments didn’t have a voice in the granting of local property tax exemptions until the governor gave them that authority 20 months ago, he said.

“It’s all voluntary and it’s all locally driven,” Walsworth said of the “payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT).” 

Walsworth said other parishes could benefit from the proposed legislation. He said he represents Claiborne Parish and it doesn’t even have a Wal-Mart.

Ryan Bourriaque, Cameron Parish administrator, outlined the reasons for getting early payments, saying increasing industry in his parish is creating infrastructure and other needs and there aren’t sufficient revenues to get the jobs done.

“We still feel we have the responsibility to handle the business of our people, and they understood the process,” Bourriaque said after the vote. He said public bodies held well-attended town hall meetings to get public input and there was no opposition to trying to get the early payments.

“Citizens are supportive of our efforts,” he said.

Bourriaque said Cameron has $30 billion in economic investment and another $30 billion in planned projects in development. The parish has the second highest median household income in the state ($65,000) and its unemployment is the lowest in the state (2.8 percent), he said.

There are 6,800 residents in the parish and there are over 13,000 wage earners/workers in the parish, he said.

Sheila Miller, president of the Cameron Parish School Board, and Charles Adkins, the superintendent, spoke in favor of the legislation. Miller said the parish has declining oil and gas revenues, has adjusted its salaries and reduced personnel and consolidated its bus routes to deal with the increased demands.

Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans and chairman of the committee, said Cameron has an inventory tax and an offshore vessel tax and the companies paying those taxes get tax credits from the state. He suggested the parish should consider doing away with those two taxes.

A host of parish tax assessors showed up to oppose the Cameron plan. Their spokesmen said negotiations like those proposed by Cameron officials take away a property’s assessed value that they must come up with. They said under the proposed legislation homeowners would be the only ones unable to negotiate their tax payments.

The payments are unconstitutional, the assessors said, but the amendment by Walsworth, if it had succeeded, would have made the process constitutional.

Sen. Eddie Lambert, R-Gonzales, was the only committee member to speak in support of Cameron’s effort, and he cast the only yes vote. Lambert said Cameron gets nothing while tax exemptions are in effect, and industrial facilities are depreciated over the years and their value declines, reducing their taxes.

Voting against the legislation were Sens. Gerald Boudreaux, D-Lafayette; Troy Carter, D-New Orleans; Dale Erdey, R-Livingston; Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria; Gary Smith, D-Norco; and John Smith, R-Leesville.

Sheila Miller, president of the Cameron Parish School Board, and Charles Adkins, the superintendent, spoke in favor of the legislation.

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