“Deepwater Horizon” opens in theaters across the country today, and the reviews have been excellent. But as The Advocate’s Gordon Russell reports, it’s also cost Louisiana taxpayers $38 million in tax credits – or $8 for every man, woman and child in the state. That makes it the most expensive movie ever made since Louisiana began subsidizing the film industry more than a decade ago.
As it happens, the release of the big-budget production — which had a recent red-carpet premiere in New Orleans — comes amid a steep downturn in Louisiana film production. Nearly everyone in the industry attributes the falloff to a raft of changes to the film subsidy program made by the Legislature in 2015. … Some in the industry see signs of an uptick, something they attribute to a couple of factors. First, the cap set by the Legislature is supposed to end in mid-2018, and given that it typically takes a year or more for a film to be pre-certified and then produced, that’s not as far into the future as it seems. Also, a one-year suspension of the state’s buyback program — through which film producers can sell their tax credits back to the state for 85 cents on the dollar — expired in July. The suspension further softened the market for tax credits, which can also be sold to third parties who want to reduce their tax liability.
Penalties and profits
Local governments in Louisiana are more reliant on police fines and forfeitures for their operating expenses than those in any other state. Greg LaRose of Nola.com/The Times-Picayune looks at shocking data gathered by the Sunlight Foundation, which found that 19 cents of every local tax dollar in Louisiana comes from fines and forfeitures – or nearly 10 times the national average of 2 cents per dollar. In some Louisiana towns, police-generated revenue makes up the vast majority of local budgets.
The Sunlight Foundation singled out Henderson as Louisiana’s most fine-reliant municipality. The St. Martin Parish town is best known as a gateway to the scenic Atchafalaya Basin and for its crawfish. In 2013, Henderson collected $3.73 in fines and forfeits for every $1 of taxes. Henderson Mayor Sherbin Collette acknowledged traffic tickets provide a large portion of local government revenue, but he said he has taken steps to avoid the label “speed trap” for his town. The police department has been instructed not to write tickets for speeders going less than 10 mph above the posted limit unless it involves an accident or another violation.
$2 Million for opioid response
According to CDC data, nearly 7,000 residents have died from opioid overdoses since 2004. Louisiana is feeling the pressure of the national crisis as pharmaceutical lobbyists encroach upon our lawmakers. Legislation has not been proposed, despite general support from the White House. The Advocate’s Elizabeth Crisp cites Louisiana action after receiving federal investments of over $2 million to aid against opioid abuse.
Louisiana has the seventh-highest opioid pain reliever-prescribing rate in the country, and the drug overdose rate outpaces the national average. A new task force, formally called the Commission on Preventing Opioid Abuse, is working to come up with a set of recommendations for short-term and long-term efforts that can be made to address prescription opioid and heroin abuse and addiction in Louisiana. The 38-member task force, created during the legislative session earlier this year, includes representatives from the medical, pharmaceutical, insurance and law enforcement communities, among others.
What’s driving the suspension rate?
Louisiana’s high rate of school suspensions – more than 60,000 kids were sent home last year, according to a new report – has sparked a debate about who’s to blame. Will Sentell of The Advocate reports that students with frequent suspensions are disproportionately people of color, poor or living with disabilities.
One side says lots of children entering school come from troubled backgrounds and that principals are well within their rights to issue out-of-school suspensions. “I think the ultimate decision on how to keep your schools safe does lie on the principal’s head,” said Debra Schum, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Principals and a former principal herself. Others say the state has to come up with new ways to keep troubled children in schools, including the thousands of disabled students who were suspended during the 2015-16 school year, the latest figures available. … Allison B. Boothe, who directs a program at Tulane that provides mental health consultations to child care centers statewide, said part of the problems stems from too much emphasis on academics in the early grades and preschool. She said that, while children should not fall behind in school, ‘the irony is that without the basic social emotional skills, children are not prepared to learn the academic work.’
Food assistance helps children
Thirty-seven percent of Louisiana’s children benefit from federal food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The program is structured to respond quickly to a family’s changing economic circumstances, and provides the basic nutrition that research has shown is critical to children succeeding in school and beyond. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently released a detailed review of the program, and the ways it helps families through difficult times.
It is in this context that SNAP is so important for America’s low-income children. No other nutrition or income support program reaches as many at-risk children nor contributes as much to the overall resources of very low-income households with children. And despite the relatively low value of its food benefit, SNAP helps lift millions of families with children out of poverty, reduces the depth and severity of poverty for millions more, alleviates food insecurity, and contributes to children’s healthy development and long-term prospects.
Number of the Day
87 percent – SNAP households with children where one member has been employed within the last year [Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]