When U.S. Congressman Steve Scalise was busy earning political credentials as a state representative, he introduced a novel concept. Instead of trying to squeeze more money out of existing taxpayers by raising tax rates, why not try to attract new taxpayers?
Some refer to this as “growing the pie” instead of cutting the existing pie into smaller pieces. Hence, Act No. 1 of the First Extraordinary Session, 2002 (House Bill No. 17) by Scalise and others, including the current governor’s Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne and the new White House Big Shot Cedric Richmond, became the Louisiana Motion Picture Incentive Act.
Louisiana grew a major new industry with Scalise’s film tax credits, creating more than 10,000 new jobs here that never existed before 2002. Nationally distributed feature-length films, videos, television series or commercials made in Louisiana in whole or in part for theatrical or television viewing, or as a television pilot, brought new courses to community colleges and universities.
Of course, some new people already with industry skills moved here, but locals wanted to get in on all of the support-related jobs and careers that go along with attracting the new film industry.
That was almost 20 years ago and legislators haven’t had many ideas of how to attract new businesses and new jobs since.
Sure, film-making in Louisiana began in 1898 with the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company. “Tarzan of the Apes” was completed here in 1918. Since then, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Easy Rider,” “Live and Let Die,” and how can you forget “The Big Easy.”
Movies were made here before 2002, but within 10 years of Scalise’s legislation passing, the state’s skilled crew base had grown over 400%, and over 300 films were shot in Louisiana.
Boosted by the film industry, Louisiana made its first appearance in Site Selection Magazine’s Top Business Climate rankings.
In less than 10 years, a new $1.3 billion in production budgets was spent in-state. While more than 2,500 films have been shot in Louisiana as of 2018, California had 52, 924 films; New York had 23,939; Texas had 8,164, and Florida had 7,437. (Notice how Texas and Florida continue to best us in most categories.)
Why doesn’t some legislator jump on the tax incentive concept that worked so successfully for the Motion Picture Production Program and juice up the Sound Recording Program?
Surely, Louisiana can better compete with Nashville and Austin for music recordings and videos, as we did with California for films.
Louisiana has tax incentives for entertainment job creation, digital interactive media and software, live performance production, historic redevelopment, and of course, the industrial tax exemption program.
Legislators could create tax incentives for seafood preparation and packaging to ship what we catch and prepare locally for global distribution instead of just focusing on fighting imports. Louisiana’s seafood shouldn’t just compete with foreign seafood imports, Louisiana’s seafood should seek to dominate the domestic seafood market.
Then there are all of the port activities up and down the Mississippi River with any number of raw goods that could be processed here and packaged before moving on to a final destination. Any recession-proof raw goods should be processed in Louisiana so people who worked in the hospitality industry could have a backup plan if they want to stay and raise their families here.
With all the businesses and people fleeing the overtaxed states of California and New York, there must be many opportunities to attract them and their businesses to Louisiana with new incentives for jobs and additional tax revenues.
Why not try a $5,000 “moving cost” rebate for those coastal refugees who relocate to Louisiana, bringing their jobs with them? There’s a real opportunity as we exit COVID-19 to gain new taxpayers. Let’s take advantage of the “Roaming 20s” as we did back in the “Roaring 20s” and hook new taxpayers with our culture, music, and food.
Otherwise, Gov. John Bel Edwards and his followers will be giving us a tax increase and calling it “tax reform.” We need new taxpayers, not new taxes.
The state constitution allows the Legislature during its regular sessions in odd-numbered years to consider bills on taxes, tax exemptions, deductions, reductions, repeals or credits.
Let’s make the upcoming 2021 session in April the “New Jobs for Louisiana” session. And seriously focus on replacing some oil and gas jobs President Joe Biden and his executive orders are hell-bent on taking away.
Email Garey Forster at Garey.Forster@gmail.com.