Are the film tax breaks really helping Louisiana?

Frank talk in Baton Rouge about Louisiana’s film tax credits has been worthwhile for taxpayers, who’ve helped subsidize some big-time movies without proof of profit to our state.

A host of bills have been introduced and discussed in the Legislature regarding Louisiana’s generous contributions to Hollywood filmmakers. Supporters of robust tax credits flooded the Capitol last month, touting the emergence of Louisiana as “Hollywood South” and claiming the demise of filmmaking here if the state turns off the tap for free money to the industry.

They talk a good game. For example, New Orleans in 2013 hosted some 60 tax credit film projects that include TV shows, movies and commercials. The city’s Office of Cultural Economy says that led to more than $450 million in local spending. Impressive.

Louisiana has seen the likes of film stars like Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Matthew McConaughey, Denzel Washington and others this year alone. What’s not to love?

This: The state has doled out close to $2 billion in tax credits since initiating its hot pursuit of the film industry, recovering only about 23 cents to the dollar, according to one respected economist’s study. In some cases, we’ve been hoodwinked into doling out more than deserved.

While the state offers generous breaks to filmmakers who use Louisiana talent, many of those who profit from their work in our state generate little in return for us. Most big names are just passing through.

The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, citing a study by Loren C. Scott and Associates of Baton Rouge, said that in fiscal year 2014 alone, Louisiana’s state treasury lost $171 million from the motion credit tax credit. Louisiana needs stable funding for higher education and healthcare; it can ill afford such losses.

Lawmakers have been studying the breadth of tax breaks given not only to the film industry, but other private industries. In most instances, the case can be made that tax credits are luring jobs to Louisiana, that they are growing our state’s prowess in areas like producing energy or new expertise in software. Such incentives promise growth for and continued health of industries that will keep our people gainfully employees for generations.

Not so with the Hollywood film industry, which seems to be touring the country in search of free money. Louisiana has none to give.

A PAR policy brief published May 15 suggests that if the state wants to benefit from its film credits, it should cap the program and direct benefits away from blockbuster films and toward digital creation and content, software and Internet innovations — things Louisianians can do. Rather than provide big payoffs for big movie companies, invest here. Such sage ideas deserve unlimited credit.

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