from gpp’s craig miller

Shreveport Times,
By Alexandyr Kent • • March 8, 2009

Louisiana’s tax incentive program drew 215 films between 2002 and 2008, and industry professionals want to see more of that action.

But the competition among states has accelerated since Louisiana enacted its tax credits in 2002. Thirty-nine states now offer incentives, and Georgia and Michigan offer more aggressive programs than Louisiana.

“We had 10 feature films in Georgia last year,” said Bill Thompson, deputy commissioner of Georgia’s Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office. “This year, we’ve had 10 feature films in production during the first quarter.”

At least one of those — “Zombieland” — was seriously considering Shreveport.

California passed its first incentive program in February — which is capped at $100 million annually — and Texas Gov. Rick Perry is pushing his state to authorize a $60 million incentives fund during its legislative session.

Legislators will have an opportunity to modify or leave alone Louisiana incentives during the coming fiscal session, which convenes April 27.

“We want to maintain the strengths of our entertainment industry incentives,” said Stephen Moret, secretary of the Louisiana Economic Development department, which will be sharpening its pitch in the coming weeks. “Those incentives have really been the primary catalyst in bringing that business here.”

The growth of the state’s film industry is driven by the program’s production tax credit, which offers companies a 25 percent tax credit on in-state expenses. As the law currently stands, the credit drops to 20 percent ! on July 1, 2010, and 15 percent on July 1, 2012.

In Georgia, the current production credit reaches 30 percent. In Michigan, it’s 42 percent.

“We need to place ourselves on even footing, if not better footing, than the Georgia incentives,” said Lampton Enochs, co-founder of Shreveport-based Louisiana Production Consultants. “This next legislative session is really kind of where the rubber hits the road. If we leave our package where it is, the industry will continue to slow down.”

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Just what the state Legislature can do is a big question this year.

“It would be very difficult to contemplate an increase given the state’s economic situation,” said Moret. Louisiana faces a $2 billion deficit. “I think our best-case scenario is to maintain the strength of the current incentives that are there now.”

In a recent economic impact study, the motion picture industry incentive program was estimated to have cost the state $105 million in tax credits during 2007 but in turn generated $763 million in economic output.

Steve Basso, general manager of the local vendor Paskal Lighting, hopes legislators pay attention to numbers like that and recognize that other states are upping their incentive packages.

“They have to incentive, incentive, incentive,” Basso said. He’d like to see Louisiana surpass Georgia with its production incentive by two or three percentage points. “Realistically, the way to really grab their attention is to sweeten the pot a little bit more.”

The push to strengthen the credit, however, is not universal.

“I’m not in the camp that says we should go for 30 and 40 percent benefits for the feeling that it would aggravate an already stressed out legislative body,” said Lenny Alsfeld, president and CEO of First Bank and Trust Film & Entertainment in New Orleans. His bank brokers transferable tax credits, recruits films to the state, and provides financing to infrastructure projects.

He does want to eliminate sunsetting provisio! ns. He b elieves a 25 percent production credit would continue to serve the state well because he sees Louisiana has upped its production capacity by building its crews and adding studios, like the Louisiana Film Center in Elmwood and Nu Image/Millennium Films’ project for Shreveport.

“What I think those signs tell us is that there is an appreciation of the permanency of Louisiana as a production mecca,” Alsfeld said.

Lawmakers will have more than just movie industry incentives when they convene April 27 for a fiscal session.

“I think we need to take a long look at that,” said Rep. Roy Burrell, D-Shreveport. “If it’s making money for us, then we should have the grounds to look more favorably on it.”

Burrell’s cautious, though, about throwing in support before he sees a bill or needs to make a decision.

“That one is going to be an arm-twister,” he said.