James Gill: Robertson fine with being on state dole

Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, Sunday, April 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Mike Stone) Show caption
Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, Sunday, April 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Mike Stone)

Every now and then the Robertson clan will receive some flak on the blogosphere for accepting about $70,000 a month in state subsidies for filming “Duck Dynasty.”

It’s happening again right now. Daddy dynast Phil, whose right-wing views embrace a profound and outspoken disdain for welfare, is being roundly denounced as a hypocrite.

It should be obvious that Robertson is much different from run-of-the mill recipients of the public dole. They get it because they need it, while A&E pays Robertson and his kin $200,000 an episode. The family duck-call business has gone nationwide and rakes in a fortune.

A&E, meanwhile, made $80 million in ads on “Duck Dynasty” last year, so everyone came out ahead except for the Louisiana taxpayer, who is being played for a sucker once again. The rationale for state subsidies is that they cost less than the tax revenues generated by the businesses they nurture, but that is almost always a fraud.

NFL owners are especially adept at spreading the myth that state handouts are a wise investment. All over the country, the public foots the bill for plush stadiums that various studies show yield no commensurate economic benefit. Football fans are naturally eager to keep their teams in town, and evidently believe they are getting a good deal as more and more of their money disappears into the pockets of billionaires.

Film and TV production subsidies are also a popular way of pouring money down the drain, and 43 states now provide them. Louisiana’s 35 percent reimbursement of production costs is particularly generous, and camera crews have become such a common sight in some parts of the state that we have taken to calling ourselves the “Hollywood of the South.”

This may be regarded as a feather in the cap, but the economic boost claimed by subsidy proponents is an illusion, as Greg Albrecht recently explained to the state Revenue Study Commission. Albrecht, chief economist in the Legislative Fiscal Office, is regarded as a fish out of water in state government on account of his inconvenient habit of telling it like it is. Legislators on the commission seemed quite taken aback when Albrecht told them that, for every dollar spent on movie and television subsidies, the state recoups a mere 15 cents. That was not what they wanted to hear.

The story is much the same in other states that provide subsidies, which, according to a study conducted by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, are a “wasteful, inefficient and unfair instrument of economic development.”

Most of the jobs created by production companies are temporary and part time, and the best ones go to nonresidents anyway, the study found. Moreover, although subsidies are supposed to entice production companies from elsewhere, they are frequently paid for movies and shows that would have been made in-state anyway.

No more obvious example of that could be imagined than “Duck Dynasty.” God-fearing rednecks just wouldn’t look right in, say, Connecticut.

Ratings are down for the current season of “Duck Dynasty,” which was a little unfortunate for Gov. Bobby Jindal, who just made a guest appearance as he strives to establish himself as a presidential candidate. Jindal also has presented the Robertsons with his newly invented “Governor’s Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence.”

The Robertsons have been such a smashing success that they clearly do possess considerable entrepreneurial skills. No leg up from the state was required for them to thrive.

They are, however, fully entitled to the subsidies. The legislation that established them required no means test.

And who among us would turn down $70,000 a month if the law said we qualified for it?

The bloggers’ ire is surely misdirected. Of course, the subsidies are insane, but the fault is with the government that distributes them.

Phil Robertson, who equates homosexuality with bestiality and believes black people were happier before welfare and civil rights, is not perhaps the perfect choice to represent Louisiana to the nation.

Still, yahoo though he may be, he knows how to get rich. If he started turning down easy money, the rest of the country might think we’re really weird down here.

Correction: Thursday’s column erroneously credited Louis Charbonnet with arranging socialite Mickey Easterling’s funeral in New Orleans. It was done by Schoen Funeral Home.

James Gill’s email address is jgill@theadvocate.com.