Bobby Jindal, Crony Capitalist

As much as I hate entertainment tax credit programs, and as obsessed as I’ve become with the bottomless well of opportunism known as Bobby Jindal, you’d think I would have guessed at the cash nexus underlying the prize endorsement of the Lousiana governor’s proto-presidential candidacy by Duck Dynasty star Willie Robertson. But afraid it took a report from Bloomberg Politics‘ Margaret Newkirk to get me to see the the connection:

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a potential Republican presidential candidate, is trying to close a $1.6 billion budget hole without touching as much as $415,000 per episode in tax breaks that may be due to “Duck Dynasty.”

The A&E television reality show takes part in the nation’s most generous entertainment-tax credit program. Jindal is proposing no changes, arguing that reducing such breaks is tantamount to raising taxes. The state approves enough incentives each year to make up at least $200 million in proposed cuts that led Louisiana State University to say that it may plan for insolvency….

Louisiana, which was the site of the most English-language film productions in the U.S. in 2013, pioneered movie credits, approving the program in 2002. All but 13 states now have such programs, according to Film Production Capital, a New Orleans firm that brokers credits….

Feeding Time Productions LLC, which produces [Duck Dynasty], has submitted expenses for its first four seasons that would qualify it for $11 million in credits once approved, according to state data. That includes $4.6 million for the fourth season, or $415,000 per episode. None have yet been certified.

Louisiana offers movie makers credits for 30 percent of in-state spending and allows them to be sold to brokers.

Film-production companies set up as limited liability companies don’t owe corporate taxes in Louisiana. Most therefore sell their credits to someone that does. They are also allowed to sell them back to the state for 85 cents on the dollar.

That’s right: it’s not enough for Louisiana to let film and TV production companies eliminate their state tax liabilities; the state gives them “transferable” tax credits that can be sold on special markets to companies that do have tax liability, and if that fails the state will buy them back. So this is the corporate version of the “refundable tax credits” poor people get via the EITC.

This makes me kind of ill as an abstract matter, and gives a whole new meaning to the term “corporate welfare.” But it’s especially egregious in a state like Louisiana, with a horrendous budget shortfall, and even violates Jindal’s own principle that cutting back on refundable tax credits (e.g., credits from the business inventory tax) doesn’t violate his no-tax-increase pledge.

I’m not saying Bobby’s taking this inconsistent and politically damaging position strictly out of solicitude for Duck Dynasty; he’s slippery enough that there are usually multiple reasons for every objectionable thing he does. But on the other hand, when Mike Huckabee was going out of his way to pander to the Robertsons in his recent book, he didn’t have tax credits to hand them either, did he?

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.