As the 2015 legislative session nears, the discussion about the film tax credit program is finally focusing on reform and how to provide for some state budgeting predictability. Lost in the debate are ideas that address sustainability and the development of a homegrown industry.
Clearly we should deal with the growing and unfettered cost to the state and the areas of the law that provide an opportunity for fraud and abuse, but shouldn’t we try to figure how to get a better return on our investment as well? The film tax incentive program, even with the cost-saving changes being discussed, will continue on a track that creates a film industry dependent on tax credits forever.
This session should be an opportunity to make substantive changes that will change the course of the film tax credit program to that of real entertainment industry development instead of a subsidy whose biggest beneficiaries are large Hollywood companies.
Capping the program is one way to start. Just like a family on a budget that needs to prioritize spending, limiting the amount of tax credits granted forces Louisiana to prioritize how to spend those dollars. Policymakers can be more strategic about how and what to incentivize and focus on the areas where we get the biggest bang for our buck.
Our own Louisiana filmmakers certainly fall into that category. Not only do they come from all over the state and pay taxes in Louisiana, unlike the out-of-state filmmakers who shoot their movies here and leave, they are creating great films. The least a Louisiana film tax credit program should do is support Louisiana filmmakers, workforce and production of Louisiana intellectual property. There are smart and lawful ways to do it that will enhance opportunities for homegrown filmmaking, entrepreneurship and investment in the state.
Louisiana blazed the trail with its film tax credit policy in 2003, and over 40 other states followed suit. Many of them now have either shut their programs down or reduced them to the point where it is not considered competitive enough to attract Hollywood production. To do that in Louisiana would only guarantee that the $1.5 billion dollars in credits we have already spent are wasted.
It’s time to blaze a new trail of reform and sustainability that not only continues to attract an acceptable level of outside production but focuses on growing our own talented Louisiana filmmakers. That’s a big picture worth producing.
Sherri McConnell is principal of McConnell and Associates Consulting, a New Orleans- and Baton Rouge-based firm focused on creative business development. Her clients range from private businesses to regional and government economic development organizations. She previously was executive director of the Office of Entertainment Industry Development, the state office dedicated to the development of the region’s entertainment industry.