Bill that could 'bring back Hollywood South' on the move at La. Capitol

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A bill overhauling Louisiana's film tax credit program is gaining traction at the capitol. A House panel unanimously approved the measure earlier this week.

Film industry leaders who back the measure believe it could bring stability to the program and help "bring back Hollywood South" after a troubling few years.

The bill would place a $150 million cap on how many tax credits are requested each year, which Baton Rouge's Celtic Studio leader, Patrick Mulhearn, believes could make the credit program more predictable for filmmakers.

Two years ago, the legislature put a back-end cap on the program, limiting how much the state pays out each year to $180 million. There was no restriction on applications, however, meaning it was never clear to production companies when they would get their tax credit money.

"You want to limit the number of promises that you make, not the number of promises that you keep. Well, Louisiana kind of got it backwards in 2015 and said we're going to make an unlimited number of promises, but we're only going to keep a few each year," said Mulhearn.

That unpredictability drove film makers away. At Celtic, empty sound stages became a familiar sight. For nearly two years, they have not had any major productions. That has led to job loss.

"Savannah officials hopped on a plane and flew out to Los Angeles and said you can't trust Louisiana anymore," Mulhearn said. "Celtic had probably 20 employees at the start of 2015, full and part time. Now we're down to five."

The bill would also create new incentives for Louisiana-based filmmakers and give additional tax credits to productions that take place outside of New Orleans.

Sponsored by Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, the bill could also allow Louisiana to get a better grasp on whether the credits are a worthwhile investment. If not, the tax credit program would expire in 2025.

"If over an eight-year period we can't get this to work, then we'll have to revisit whether we should have one," said Morrell.

A recent analysis of the program shows that for every dollar the state spends on tax credits, only about 22 cents returns to state coffers. However, the overall economic impact is estimated to be much greater. For every dollar spent, about four dollars flow into the state economy.

About 14,000 jobs across the state are also dependent on the film industry. The bill will soon head to the full House for a vote. It has already advanced through the Senate.

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