For lawmakers seeking to curb the exploding costs of movie tax credits, the notion of leaving the problem alone is repugnant: Taxes have been raised on car buyers, smokers and, through repeal of other tax exemptions and credits, thousands of businesses in Louisiana.
One of the Legislature’s leaders, state Rep. Joel Robideaux, of Lafayette, posed the question of why film credits should be left alone as lawmakers struggled to close a budget gap that threatened massive cuts to higher education and health care.
If the Robideaux bill on film tax credits is vetoed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, as the film industry wants, “it will blow a hole in the budget for that amount,” the lawmaker noted.
The Robideaux bill hopes to save $77 million in the cost next year for the program. As chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Robideaux was involved in the backstage negotiations over that bill and many other revenue-raising measures. He told the Press Club of Baton Rouge that the late passage of the film credits cap was “not good optics,” a nice phrase for a movie-related bill.
But Robideaux said the bad optics reflected the need to resolve differing approaches to the issue by the House and the Senate and the pressure of agreeing on a final measure. We have no doubt that the governor and his aides will look at the measure, as they should. Given the short time that the Legislature had to grapple with a huge budget problem — and given the general unhelpfulness of Jindal to the process of raising new revenue — an across-the-board approach was inevitable. Not particularly good policy, but inevitable.
The growth, and past abuses, in the film credit program was documented in last year’s series in The Advocate, “Giving Away Louisiana.” State-funded studies have argued that the Treasury pays out at least four times as much as it generates in tax revenue from film credits.
Still, it’s a costly program, more than $200 million a year. A $180 million cap does not seem harsh, especially as some credits can be carried forward into coming tax years for filmmakers under the final compromise legislation.
The Legislature is right not to exclude the program from a general, if modest, tightening of tax credits and exemptions. We hope that the governor will agree.