Rally planned in support of movie tax credits - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

Rally planned in support of movie tax credits

Senator Dan "Blade" Morrish Senator Dan "Blade" Morrish
Louis Herthum Louis Herthum

By Robb Hays - email

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - When Louisiana's movie production industry began to flourish several years ago, Louis Herthum had stars in his eyes.

Not because he could be on the big screen. He'd been there, done that. The stars in his eyes came from the chance to move back to his native Louisiana and do more of the work that he loves.

As an actor and producer, Herthum has worked in more than three dozen films. But the stars in his eyes are fading. Fading because of concern that Louisiana's booming movie business will soon fade away as movie executives eye more lucrative opportunities in other parts of the country.

"It will continue to diminish," Herthum said as he was preparing to drive from Baton Rouge to a movie set in Chalmette where has a starring role in a movie under production there. He and others in the film industry are pushing hard to convince state legislators to sweeten the pot here in Louisiana or face the possibility of movie makers heading elsewhere.

Preserve Louisiana's Film Industry, a group founded by Herthum, has scheduled a rally on the steps of the state capitol starting at 8:30am Wednesday to show their support for legislation to increase movie production tax credits. Currently, Louisiana offers a 25% tax credit for movie productions. That amount is set to decrease to 20% next year. Other states, seeing Louisiana's success, have come up with more lucrative offers. Michigan now offers tax credits up to 42%. Georgia, New York, and Connecticut all offer 30% credits.

There are several different proposals being considered by Louisiana legislators during the current legislative session that deal with tax credits. One proposal, by Senator Robert Adley, R-Benton, and supported by Herthum, would increase the credit to 30%. State Senator Dan "Blade" Morrish, R-Jennings, believes a 20% tax incentive is more than sufficient and has voted against legislation to increase incentives to 30%.

With Louisiana facing a more than $1 billion budget deficit, Morrish says now is not the time to increase tax credits. "I understand they're always looking for more, but we're in a situation where I don't think we can give more at this particular time," Morrish said. Increasing the incentives to 30% would cost the state nearly $20 million per year. "I think it's competitive with the rest of the country at 20 percent," Morrish said. "I think that we have proven in Louisiana that we can do a quality job here and have quality people."

Herthum warns movie executives will go where the money is. "They (legislators) say they can't pay for it, they don't know where they're going to get the extra money. My question is - how do we give up a $750 million a year industry?" The motion picture industry's impact on the state's economy in 2007 was estimated to be $763 million, according to figures provided by the state. Figures for 2008 are still being compiled.

Of the $115.1 million in tax credits issued for productions made in 2007, the state expected to recoup $14.6 million in state taxes as a result of those projects, according to state figures. That amounted to a cost of more than $100 million to the state.

Herthum says the arrival of a new movie production brings immediate dollars to a community. "They buy lumber at the local lumber yard, fill local hotels, use the local dry cleaner, and eat at the local restaurants," he said. "What I want the senators and representatives to know, as someone who has devoted my entire life to this industry is that it is a bottomline industry," Herthum said. "They will go where they save the most money."

Movie production in the northwest Louisiana, in and around Shreveport, has been bustling during the past two years. However, statewide, applications for new movie productions are now down nearly 50%, a spokeswoman for the state film commission.  

When the issue first surfaced last month, State Senator B.L. "Buddy" Shaw, R-Shreveport,  voted against legislation to increase movie tax credits to 30%. That made Shaw very unpopular back home. After calls and emails from constituents, Shaw says he will now support the plan to increase incentives to 30%. Herthum believes the 30% level would seal Louisiana's success in being a competitive player in the movie industry. "And that's the key word, being able to compete," Herthum said.

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