Louisiana House snubs 'Hollywood fat cats,' rejects movie tax credit extension

Greg Hilburn
Lafayette Daily Advertiser
More than 100 people supporting a bill to extend Louisiana's film tax credit program packed the House Ways and Means Committee room Monday, May 24, 2021.

A bill to extend Louisiana's $180 million annual movie and TV tax credit for three years until 2028 was rejected by the Louisiana House late Thursday, likely closing the curtain on the effort for two years.

Critics of Senate Bill 173 by Republican Slidell Sen. Sharon Hewitt of Slidell like Republican Rep. Lance Harris of Alexandria said the program misplaces Louisiana's priorities.

"We've spent over $2 billion (since the program's inception in 2012) so fat cats in Hollywood can get rich while we can't build a bridge in Louisiana," Harris said.

The vote was 45-37 in favor of the bill, but it needed a 53-vote majority in the 105-member House to pass. Twenty-three members were absent or didn't vote.

Republican Columbia Rep. Neil Riser, who carried the bill in the House for Hewitt, could try to bring it up for reconsideration before the session ends at 6 p.m. Thursday, but that would require a two-thirds approval, or 70 votes.

"That's a steep hill, especially with (Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder) voting against it, but I'm not ruling it out," Riser told USA Today Network Friday morning. 

Riser noted that the program doesn't expire until 2025 under current law, which would allow supporters to try again in the 2023 Legislative Session, the next time taxes can be considered.

“There is no impetus to pass this bill today because the bill doesn’t sunset tomorrow,” said Republican Baton Rouge-area Rep. Barry Ivey.

Republican Haughton Rep. Dodie Horton defended the extension during the debate, saying the industry generates critical commerce for small businesses and communities.

Republican Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, who oversees the state's tourism industry, told USA Network he was disappointed in the outcome.

"This is not the year to cut anything for tourism," Nungesser said Friday morning. "I hope they will reconsider the bill. This sends the wrong message in a year that we're trying to recover from the pandemic."

Officials from the state's economic development department said the overall economic impact outside of the direct return of taxes to the state is $6 for every $1 spent by the productions. They estimate the industry supports about 10,000 jobs.

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But critics of the program note Louisiana recoups only 22 cents for every $1 credit issued, and Legislative Auditor Greg Albrect called that a "best-case scenario" during an earlier debate on the bill.

Nungesser said his data shows that 53% of visitors said something they saw about Louisiana in movies or on TV motivated their trip to the state, which can't be measured in the economic studies.

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1