Louisiana State Capitol _lowres

ADVOCATE FILE PHOTO --- Louisiana's State Capitol, standing at 450 feet tall, is the tallest capitol in the United States.

Louisiana spent more than $1 billion on tax breaks for people and corporations during the budget cycle that ended in July.

An annual audit of the state's tax revenue loss, released this week, also found that the return on investment for the 78 rebates and other perks evaluated isn't always known.

"There are no specifications in the statutes regarding the method of calculation to be used in determining the (return) related to each incentive," the Louisiana Legislative Auditor's Office wrote in an executive summary of their findings. "With no guidelines or restrictions, the accuracy of the (return on investment) calculation and the appropriateness of the methodology used cannot readily be determined."

The incentive programs are largely meant to stimulate the economy or provide a benefit for special circumstances.

One of the largest in the budget cycle covered was about $205 million in revenue lost to the Motion Picture Investor Tax Credit. That program, which subsidizes movie-makers who film in Louisiana, is estimated as having a return of 22 cents for every dollar spent.

Officials have recently touted changes made to the film tax credit program in 2016 as offering more stability that has stimulated the film industry here, after a brief decline. Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration plans to release an "economic impact" report in the spring. 

Other breaks also are given for some child care expenses, rehabilitation of historic structures and solar panel installation, among others.

Revenue Secretary Kimberly Robinson said in response to the audit that the state Revenue Department plans to develop and dedicate resources to a team of economists to better keep up with how productive incentive programs are.

"The economists, working in conjunction with our analysts, will develop consistent procedures and defined calculations for use in (return on investment) analysis for those incentives that are legislatively intended to provide a return of revenue to Louisiana," she wrote.

Robinson also noted that not all incentives are designed to have a positive return on investment.

She pointed out one such program for members of the military to receive discounted hunting and fishing licenses.

"As a benefit to service members and their families, the credit does not return a certain dollar amount for each dollar of credit granted," she wrote. "Instead, the credit is designed to reimburse service members and their families for the purchase of Louisiana noncommercial hunting or fishing licenses without reducing the self-generated revenues of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries."

Tax breaks, particularly the motion picture credit, have frequently been a point of debate as lawmakers have grappled with repeated budget crises in recent years. 

The Legislature earlier this year agreed to extend part of a sales tax hike that was set to expire July 1 to shore up the state's finances. 

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.