Legislature protects movie tax credit

Legislature protects movie tax credit
Source: WAFB

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Some lawmakers say the state's film industry is too valuable to make filmmakers pay more taxes, even while the legislature tries to find money to put a dent in the fiscal cliff.

A bill by Rep. Phillip Devillier, backed by Republican leadership, would have cut in half the credits production companies can claim on their taxes during filming. Parent companies like Popeye's, which films many of its commercials in Louisiana, do not directly benefit from the credit, although those parent companies were a source of debate throughout the meeting.

"Three Popeye's commercials?" Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, asked. "I like their chicken, but I don't know if we should be subsidizing their commercials."

Other lawmakers from each party called the credit an incentive and defended the film industry, which supports about 14,000 jobs in Louisiana.

"That Popeye's commercial? Amen, brother," Julie Stokes said. "I love that commercial because it shows our city over and over and over again."

Many of the resulting films and commercials are produced by Louisiana companies, which use local resources, like timber, to construct their sets. But some lawmakers argued the bill prioritizes the movie industry in Louisiana's biggest cities over education and healthcare statewide.

"I suggest that we stop all the giveaways or cut all of them back, and not pick and choose because we like them in our district," Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, said. "That's important to my district, but I'm not going to raise taxes to pay for it."

The film industry has worked with legislators to reform their tax incentives each fiscal session since 2013. Those tax policies have changed significantly since then, and some lawmakers say that industry is one of the few that pays its "fair share."

"We reform it, and then the next year we reform it again, and then the next year we reform it again," Stokes said. "It's like we keep moving the goal lines and it's just too difficult."

The bill would have raised about $90 million before the committee voted it down. Lawmakers also voted down a bill on the House floor that would have extended one-third of the fifth penny of state sales tax. That bill is the centerpiece for negotiations between Republicans and Democrats during the special session.

Lawmakers will return on Monday to try to hammer out a deal to close the $648 million budget hole before the June 4 deadline.

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