SADOW: Maybe The State Should Stop Subsidizing Its Crooked Ex-Politicians

As if Louisiana and simultaneously its wasteful motion picture tax credit need any more black eyes, it turns out the reality television show starring Prisoner #03128-095 wants to make a go at it by pilfering Louisiana taxpayers. And maybe it’s something state policy-makers ought to do something about that also will improve its overall ethics climate.

Already being produced by the A&E Network, “The Governor’s Wife” features the former Gov. Edwin Edwards, his latest wife Trina, and their challengingly-blended family. Not only does the show wish to catch the eyeballs of the public with its slow-down-to-look-at-the-car-wreck premise, but also hopes to drain the state’s revenue sources by use of the credits. The producers likely will not use much of them; the rest they will sell at a discount to others at with demonstrated appetite (like this guy) to reduce their Louisiana tax burdens – money that otherwise would have been collected and used for state services, or to return to taxpayers if policy-makers wanted to use those funds as a basis for a tax cut.

Regrettably, these credits cost the state more than $7 for every $1 they bring in, having cost the state nearly $500 million more than the small revenues they have brought in since their inception. So it seems that the only thing worse than publicizing the activities of a geezer who brought disgrace on the state is that the state subsidizes others to do it.

That needs to change. There are actually several laws out there that, in a sense, discourage misbehaving officials from profiting off of misdeeds in office, both for ethics breaches and legal violations. But none address the possibility that a miscreant former official may allow others to profit from his status as a former officeholder, even if he gets nothing in exchange.

It would be overreach to punish any activity of economic gain for the other party. For example, Prisoner #03312-095 published a biography of Prisoner #03128-095; it would be illegitimate for the state to restrict that economic activity of ex-con former Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown or anybody else. But it’s an entirely different matter when the other party stands to profit from state tax exemptions.

So, what the Legislature could do is pass a law prohibiting the use of these credits if they utilize the services of any Louisiana public official convicted of any crime related to performing the duties of his offices or (which would catch Prisoner #03128-095) one where his status as a previous officeholder gave him the ability to commit the crime. Better still, it could be broadened to disallow any tax exception. This does not mean that the series cannot be made nor any editorial content of it censored, or in the broader case whatever economic activity cannot occur engaging the services of these ex-cons, it simply means the entity seeking to make money off usage of a convict in this category cannot benefit from tax breaks by that economic activity.

Passage of such a law would have a salutary impact on the ethics climate in the state. It would provide another incentive to keep officeholders honest, knowing that their contracting or employment prospects would diminish if caught in corruption because potentially the state would not be subsidizing their employer or client if they be eligible for some kind of state tax break.

Much of problem may go away if income taxes are done away with in the state. But if tax breaks do remain if there is some kind of future elimination of income taxes, or if that fails and the state’s review of exceptions does not lead to repeal of all of them, the state can’t go wrong in adopting this kind of law, the least benefit of which would being saving a few bucks that otherwise would wind up in the hands of those exploiting (if that’s possible) the Silver Zipper.

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