Last year we spent over $200 million on movie tax credits to induce Hollywood to make films in Louisiana. This state subsidy is supposed to stabilize over time at $150 million per year but I wouldn’t count on it. The net is that over the years we have already spent over a billion dollars.
In order to make this number easy to grasp let me illustrate what I would use sums of this magnitude for. Suppose that we wanted to give low income folks a chance at a better life, how would we go about that? Would we offer them some kind of temporary job on a movie set, would we increase government subsidies directly or indirectly to them, or would we offer them a chance at an education that could lead to a lifetime of higher income?
If we prioritized our spending as I would and assuming that I could end the $200 million per year gift to Hollywood we could grant a $4,500 per year scholarship to more than forty four thousand young adults to attend a vo-tech school, a community college, or a university. Yes, that is what I said; 44,000 prospects per year to create lifetimes of better opportunity. If one wants to be less skeptical than me then theoretically the annual giveaway sum would be at $150 million but that would result in more than 33 thousand yearly scholarships. In either case that is a lot of potential prosperity that we are just shipping away to Hollywood!
Now why does one suppose that our governor and many Democrats in the legislature fight so hard to keep paying tribute to this self-created monument to crony capitalism? To me this concept is especially implausible as, to a great extent, it is their own constituents that would benefit from the better jobs and more income that an education provides?
I have a few well-caffeinated thoughts on this subject. First, nationally we observe that Hollywood is not only a major supporter of left-wing Democrat beliefs but those people out there also comprise one of the largest sources of campaign funds for Democrats. Could it be that our own politicians look to the movie industry for their support on any number of levels? If so, as relates to campaign funding, in effect are taxpayers in Louisiana recycling their own taxes through Hollywood into contributions for the very in-state Democrats whose political philosophy runs counter to their own?
OK, that’s too cynical for some, so could it be that funding millions to Hollywood for a movie made in Louisiana here and there feeds the “cool factor” ego of politicians? We all know that it is so cool to have your photograph made standing next to movie stars and starlets. It really makes for great campaign literature to post on social media pictures with smiling celebrities or to have a friendly media write stories of in what high esteem Hollywood holds our politicians.
OK, so that is too cynical also. Then what could be the reason that our leaders choose to funnel mind-boggling sums to Hollywood? Well, to listen to the defenders of this public largesse the answer is economic development. That’s a stock answer, but we know that the state’s return on its investment in the movie industry is a negative 75%; yes I said a negative return! I am not fully against a negative return as long as it is not to a company or industry that already exists in our state and that it is for a FINITE period of time. But the subsidy to Hollywood is expected to be FOREVER. As soon as we stop giving away our irreplaceable cash assets then they will simply fade away. Unlike other industries that have physical ties to our state these folks will move on to the next state that offers them mega-millions!
So in the upcoming legislative and gubernatorial election campaigns here is a fundamental question that the people must expect a truthful answer to. Do you support a system of government that is driven by priority and long range strategy aimed at building a stronger economy? Or do you defend spending literally billions of dollars over time on an industry that clearly brings a cool factor and plenty of campaign funds but prevents us from prioritizing our spending so that we can educate our young adults?
In fact the more basic question that must be answered is what is your philosophy for governing? Priority and strategic planning are the very definition of political vision; continuing to do the same things just because they have always been done just wastes resources, lives, and opportunities.
In the area of long term economic development, to attract growth our last resort should be subsidy. Education, good government policies, infrastructure, low taxes, a fair tort system; all these things can be changed and will attract jobs but we must have the political will and courage to do so. Subsidy is equivalent to placing a bandage over a festering sore and telling the world that we have done something good.
If we elect or re-elect people to high office who accept the status quo and will not change the direction of our state then I suggest that we will remain mired in last place.
Demanding vision is the least that we should expect. Perhaps even worse than having no vision though would be if we elect a candidate who paints a rosy vision but has no idea of how to achieve it or who has no intention on striving for it. We have a history of going down that road!