That’s what comes across from the revelation that the hit television show (although the ratings are beginning to erode from all-time record highs for a nonfiction series in TV history) Duck Dynasty pockets an estimated cool $70,000 an episode from Louisiana taxpayers – and it now is in its sixth season. Having completed 61 episodes through season 5, by the end of this season (just kicked off with a special guest appearance by Gov. Bobby Jindal), taxpayers will be estimated to have plunked down over $5 million to subsidize the show.
Courtesy, of course, of the film and television tax credits that the state has given away now for a dozen years where the total amount forgone is approaching $1 billion. The Robertson clan that heads the Duck Commander franchise on which the show is based (and who dabble in politics) gets $200,000 an episode for its participation, but chances are that would include no taxpayer dollars without the subsidy because, hey, with their northeast Louisiana home base if you want to do a series about them, the producers and A&E network have to come to the state anyway to do it regardless of any subsidy.
In other words, that 70 grand likely has nothing to do with the decision to produce the popular series and needn’t have been paid in the first place. On the flip side of the coin, there are a number of films and series that one day will be lionized canonically (the heavy sarcasm – The Skeleton Key, Drive Angry, The Governor’s Wife, anybody? – is entirely intentional) that probably never would have gotten made in Louisiana without these credits, which can kick back to the moneyed backers of these efforts as much as 30 percent of costs in forgone taxes and/or selling of these credits at 75 cents to the buck or better.
Which demonstrates the idiocy of it all when understanding that, over this time span, the state has gotten back roughly one in seven dollars paid out. While it’s not the largest state tax credit paid out that denies the state revenues, dollar-for-dollar it’s probably the most wasteful. Further, it distorts the marketplace by sucking in dollars to an activity that the market otherwise wouldn't support and away from other activities that would be more productive.
Unfortunately, this past regular session being a “general” session where constitutionally the Legislature cannot consider decreases in tax credits, this waste could not be corrected in 2014. And while 2015 allows for that, constitutionally any reduction in this requires a two-thirds supermajority, an especially difficult standard to attain in an election year where the special interests that profit from this massive transfer of wealth from alternative uses on functions such as healthcare and higher education into the pockets of a few thousand people, the majority of that accruing to just a handful of already well-off folks, will lobby like mad to prevent their rollback (which only has been done to minor degree ever since they were made permanent, despite may proposals to go farther) through promises of campaign cash and votes.
Perhaps the most compelling testimony against the continuation of these is that the blind pig known as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, joined with its subsidiary and equally sightless hog the Louisiana Budget Project, finds by their condemnation of these credits axiomatic opposition to big government and its spending that occasional acorn. Even in non-election years, far-sighted legislators have whiffed in trying to get their less courageous colleagues to circumscribe the program, but with costs in so many other areas of state government continuing to escalate, one can dream that enough of them next year will get it together enough at least to modify in generosity, if not outright ending, this farcical giveaway.