Glitz and glamour, and jobs for his constituents — however expensive the movie tax credits are for the Louisiana taxpayer, Mayor-President Kip Holden is in his element when film crews land in Baton Rouge.
After a decade, the mayor has had his difficulties with the increasingly fractious Metro Council, and several major borrowing proposals for big public works have been blocked. At the same time, though, the metropolitan area is in the midst of a considerable economic boom, fueled in large part by traditional industries such as petrochemical manufacturing but also by the new jobs that Holden has pursued as mayor. It’s Holden’s last term — and one in which he can claim a considerable legacy of progress.
But if the mayor is entitled to credit for his role in job recruitment, it is more than that with the movie industry.
He enjoys it.
With a personal sense of style, and flashier suits than Donald Trump’s, the mayor’s strengths as a glad-hander are one thing. One can hardly imagine his predecessors, Tom Ed McHugh or Bobby Simpson, having quite as good a time; sure, they’d have done all the public things for the film industry, but it would have been as much a matter of duty as pleasure.
Now, the mayor is an advocate for keeping Hollywood South going.
The film industry is a mixed blessing, as the debate in the State Capitol has demonstrated. Its tax credits are costly, and corruption has dogged the program several times. By and large, there’s a great case that not only should controls be tightened on what is paid for by the state taxpayer but that the overall cost of the program should be limited.
Not so, says Holden, announcing the productions that are coming to Baton Rouge this year. A remake of “The Magnificent Seven” is one of them, and Holden said that alone is good for 500 jobs.
“This, I hope, resonates with those legislators who want to virtually cripple the industry about tax credits and let them know Baton Rouge is a prime example of a city and its people that’s benefiting greatly from those who seek the tax credits, those who come in, those who hire people, those who do things with local vendors and those that are making a change,” Holden said.
The mayor’s case is a respectable one, but it falls flat at a time when LSU and Baton Rouge Community College budgets are cut, and Southern University’s campus — Holden is a graduate of both LSU and Southern — faces almost an existential financial squeeze.
About $180 million in direct spending came to Baton Rouge last year from more than 20 projects, promoters of the industry argue. Those are real jobs, and probably no mayor more than Holden would do more to ensure that the industry is treated well and its problems are promptly addressed.
It’s also good politics for Holden, who is seeking the lieutenant governor’s job this fall. The film industry feels a bit embattled, and he is one of its champions; perhaps that will translate into support in New Orleans and Shreveport, too.
What is the long-term future for Baton Rouge? Films are fine, but learning is better, and that costs real money that is being drained by new Hollywood productions.
Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.