Recently, cable television showed America how sheriff’s deputies investigated an altar of candles, blood and chicken feet in an eerie building off what looks like Little Caillou Road in south Terrebonne Parish.
True, Vernon Bourgeois, the Terrebonne Parish sheriff who stars in the reality show, “Cajun Justice,” is no longer sheriff of the place where, according to A&E Network publicity, “the deeper into the sticky swampland the deputies dive, the stranger and more mysterious the calls become.” Also true is that south of Chauvin, at least these days, are predominantly multi-million dollar camps where the only sign of voodoo is the logo on bags of barbecue.
A rough count of cable television listings came up with at least eight programs that purport to show typical Louisiana residents going about their everyday lives: duck callers, pawn shop operators, ghost hunters, custom gunsmiths, exterminators, overnight millionaires, fishermen and, of course, alligator hunters.
Add into that mix, a governor who spends much of his time on television in other states campaigning for Republican candidates and their causes.
That’s an awful lot of exposure for a state with fewer people than some of America’s larger cities. It’s saturation advertising that Louisiana taxpayers subsidize.
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne says the multitude of reality shows proves that the rest of the country is interested in Louisiana’s unique lifestyle. Though the state has no extensive statistics, officials at hotels and local visitors’ centers do report an uptick in tourist interest about visiting swamps and other areas off the beaten path, he said.
Dardenne also acknowledges that part of the attraction is the tax credits and incentives.
Reality TV productions have spent around $36 million directly in Louisiana during the past decade, estimated Christopher Stelly, the executive director of the state office that oversees the tax credits.
But reality television accounts for a small fraction of the business since the 2002 inception of the motion picture incentive program, Stelly said. Private companies have spent about $3 billion in Louisiana for all film and television productions during the past decade, he said.
The incentive program recently came under fire from legislators who were critical that a few companies could take advantage of rules that Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera says could allow large private profits, rather than just partial reimbursement of costs, at taxpayers’ expense. Secretary of Economic Development Stephen Moret said those issues have been addressed.
Generally, the incentive program allows producers to receive tax credit certificates for a portion of various expenditures and payroll in Louisiana. Moret said the credits are issued for certain expenses already paid by the producer and those transactions are audited.
For instance, the two companies producing “Billy the Exterminator,” in November 2011, received a tax credit certification of $451,580 based on audited transactions of $3.3 million in Louisiana, according to a state Department of Economic Development letter.
The Terrebonne Sheriff’s Office is paid $1,500 per episode, the Tri-Parish Times and Business News quoted Bourgeois as saying.
On the other side of the equation, how much does it cost Louisiana taxpayers for Jindal to stump America for Republican candidates?
Jindal’s spokeswoman, Shannon Bates, says the governor’s expenses were paid by the GOP causes on whose behalf he campaigned for 20 days during the past 73, and that no state-paid employees, except bodyguards, accompanied him.
Doug Cain, spokesman for State Police Col. Mike Edmonson, won’t say. But Jindal’s bodyguards were paid their regular salary, which ranges from $20.33 to $34.11 per hour, plus overtime, Cain said.
Whatever that cost, Jindal leaves America pondering pearls of Louisiana wisdom, though perhaps not as memorable as Troy Landry’s “Choot ’Em.”
Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate Capitol news bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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