A House panel this week moved to put an end to Louisiana’s practice of writing a blank check to the motion picture industry, approving three measures that put a cap on how much money Louisiana taxpayers will have to fork over to Hollywood.
It’s a sign of progress that lawmakers recognize the need to end more than a decade of unlimited subsidies to the motion picture industry.
Louisiana’s generous giveaway program has made our state into the nation’s motion picture leader, but the costs have been so high — approaching a quarter-billion dollars a year — that the scheme is a big money-loser for taxpayers.
With the state groaning under a $1.6 billion shortfall and a couple of significant studies showing how ineffective the subsidies have been, even the moviemakers know that they’re going to have to live with some kind of haircut.
But the measures passed this week by the House Ways and Means Committee — House bills 276, 704 and 819 — amount to little more than a trim.
As passed, the measures would cap the subsidies for the first time. The way things work right now is that the taxpayers turn over as much money as the filmmakers ask for, and if there is not enough left over to pay for professors and doctors and roads, well, that’s somebody else’s problem. That kind of open-checkbook policy caused the state to spend more money on a single film, the 2011 bomb “Green Lantern,” than on the University of New Orleans.
The bills would cap the subsidies at between $150 million and $226 million, meaning the most generous would keep the giveaways at current levels and the most frugal would cut the program by a third.
It’s a start, but Louisiana’s taxpayers deserve better.
The reform bills also should include a timetable to wind down the subsidies. The program was designed to give a taxpayer-financed boost to start the motion picture industry. The government aid has been going on for too long, and it has increased fivefold. But the bigger problem is that there is no end in sight, and while state assistance can play a role in helping launch a new industry, it should not go on forever.
If Hollywood’s legislative friends have their way, we’ll spend another billion over the rest of this decade, and the moviemakers will still want more.