The tax subsidy that the state gives to film and television producers — one of the most generous in the country — would be limited under legislation approved by the Louisiana Senate Saturday.
The measure, House Bill 829, would impose a $180 million cap on a program whose costs have risen steadily over the past dozen years. It is projected to cost taxpayers about $250 million this year.
The Senate vote was 32-5.
HB829 was amended in the Senate, so it will have to return to the House for final approval. When it passed the House, the bill had a $200 million cap, and the benefits were targeted more at Louisiana producers.
The Senate also amended onto HB829 an unrelated measure that would create the controversial SAVE fund for higher education institutions. The SAVE fund wouldn’t actually create new state revenue but is meant to prevent Gov. Bobby Jindal from vetoing the state budget.
Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, sought to strip the SAVE fund from HB829, but she failed on a 9-28 vote.
The Senate’s changes to HB829 did not please state Rep. Joel Robideaux, the legislation’s sponsor.
“They gutted the indigenous part of the bill,” Robideaux, R-Lafayette, said in an interview Saturday. “The benefits should go mostly to Louisiana filmmakers as a way to create our own industry using our own citizens. I could kill the bill to leave the film credit as it is.”
If the House rejects the Senate changes, as expected, a conference committee of three senators and three House members would have to negotiate a final version of the bill to present to both chambers.
Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, handled the film tax credit bill on Saturday, saying it has led to investment in Louisiana and created thousands of jobs.
State Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, tried to kill the tax credit by phasing it out over five years. He said the tax subsidies of 30 to 35 percent per film project represent “crony capitalism.”
Appel said the state has gotten little bang for the more than $1 billion in tax subsidies given to the film and television industry over the past five years.
Morrell decried the criticism, saying other legislation he is pushing this year would tighten eligibility requirements and clamp down on fraud.
“Film has turned into a scapegoat and a sacrificial lamb,” Morrell told senators.
Appel’s amendment failed 9-28.
The film tax credit has been under fire because of independent studies showing that for every dollar given to producers, the state treasury receives only about 20 cents in return. The tax credit also has led to several high-profile convictions of people who abused the program.
The Senate on Saturday also approved House Bill 604, which would have the state’s economic development agency hire the outside accounting firms that certify the expenses submitted by film and television producers. Under current law, the producers choose the accounting firms.
HB604, which is sponsored by Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, returns to the House for final approval.
Follow Tyler Bridges on Twitter, @TegBridges. For more coverage of the State Capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.