By Greg LaRose
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, took a victory lap around his congressional district this week after last month's approval of an extensive Republican tax plan that, among other things, dramatically lowers the corporate income tax rate. On Thursday (Jan. 4), he visited two businesses that are crediting the changes for allowing them to invest in their companies and employees.
A reduction in the federal corporate income tax from 37 percent to 21 percent will provide a boost to Blessey Marine Services, an Elmwood company with more than 700 employees that welcomed Scalise on Thursday afternoon. He spoke to a group of employees in a room plastered with photos of the Blessey fleet, including a tugboat named after the congressman in 2011. The company operates inland barges and towing vessels that serve the petroleum industry.
Blessey president Clark Todd said the lower tax rate has allowed his company to restore a cost of living raise for its workers that had been sidelined for two years while anemic oil prices curbed their workload. Employees have received bonuses in recent years, and the tax break will allow that to continue, he said. The company cut back on transportation and travel expenses during the drop in oil prices over the past two years to keep bonuses intact, Todd said.
The corporate tax break -- along with the Trump administration's move to expand offshore drilling - bodes well for Blessey, Todd said. He predicted the company will add more jobs over the next 18 months. There are about 550 Blessey employees working offshore and another 150 based at its Elmwood office.
Ultimately, it will be the clients that Blessey works for that determine how busy its barges and tugs get. Todd said when demand for petroleum - and the products that are refined from it -- starts to catch up with the vast commodity supply, companies such as his will be poised to benefit.
In the meantime, Todd said he would like the Trump administration and Congress to follow through on plans to deepen the channel of the Mississippi River all the way up to Baton Rouge. The project has long been on the Army Corps of Engineers agenda but has struggled to gain priority status, even with money available from a fund that comes from a tax on maritime interests.
Scalise said the "meat" of the congressional agenda in 2018 includes Trump's call for more infrastructure investment, which includes the needs of the maritime industry. In addition to more projects with a public-private financing mix, he said a call for more oversight of the Corps of Engineers is expected.
"We're going to need to get a handle on overruns on (Corps) projects that should be done quicker and cheaper," he said.
In the morning, Scalise toured the Gnarly Barley Brewing Co. in Hammond, which will benefit from a reduction in the federal excise tax on breweries. Owner Zac Caramonta told our news partners at WVUE Fox 8 News that the change will help the company pay for employee health insurance and expand.