Saturday, April 20, 2024

Film, TV subsidy extension keeps advancing in Louisiana

by BIZ Magazine

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

A Louisiana House committee approved a three-year extension Monday of the state’s $180 million annual film subsidy.

The program is scheduled to end in 2025. Senate Bill 173 by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Slidell Republican, would extend the sunset into the middle of 2028.

The state can issue up to $150 million in credits per year and pay out up to $180 million each year to support the film and TV industry. Projects qualify for the program through verified in-state spending and hiring.

Ways and Means Committee Chair Stuart Bishop said he had never seen so many green cards in support of a bill while he has led the committee. Supporters, many of whom wore stickers that said “film=jobs,” cheered when members approved the bill.

While there were no objections, Rep. Phillip DeVillier, R-Eunice, complained about the cost of the program and the fact there was not an updated cost-benefit analysis.

“We’re setting priorities,” DeVillier said, noting the money could be spent on roads and bridges or used to lower taxes.

The most-recent report indicated a return of about 35 cents in state and local tax collections for every dollar in credit issued. For the state, the return is about 22 cents; Greg Albrecht, the Louisiana Legislature’s chief economist, emphasized the latter because local governments don’t share the cost.

“That’s a spend we didn’t do, or a tax cut we didn’t give,” he said about state spending for the program.

The same report indicated each dollar spent in credits spurred $6 in spending in the general economy, which is where supporters prefer to focus. Hewitt acknowledged DeVillier’s concerns but noted the film program gets more scrutiny than most and said she didn’t want to “pick off” one program.

Ways and Means also advanced Senate Bill 154 and Senate Bill 165, a statute and accompanying constitutional amendment that would change how state law handles property taxes. Under the current system, local taxing authorities have to levy the maximum allowable rate at least once during every four-year assessment period or risk losing the ability to use the top rate entirely, Lafourche Parish Assessor Wendy Thibodeaux said.

The system encourages charging the top rate even when the money isn’t needed and building up a surplus, she said.

“They’re generating interest off of the taxpayers’ money, when it could go back into businesses,” Thibodeaux said. “This just gives taxpayers a break.”

The House Appropriations Committee advanced Senate Bill 10 by Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge. It would make kindergarten mandatory. Beginning with the 2022-2023 school year, children who turn age 5 on or before Sept. 30 would be required to attend school, and homeschooling would qualify.

Gov. John Bel Edwards and many business and education groups have endorsed the change. The change could cost up to $12 million, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office, which Edwards said easily can be absorbed in the $3.9 billion education formula.

Opponents have argued the requirement usurps parental authority. Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, said he didn’t want to turn the parents of approximately 2,800 school-aged children who don’t attend kindergarten into “law breakers.”

Crews was the only Appropriations Committee member to object to advancing the bill, which already has passed the Senate.

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