At Politico, cranky Michael Kinsley takes a break from criticizing his own employer today to take on the film subsidies Pa and other states offer to woo movie glamour and cultivate secondary spending on film crew salaries, hotel costs, catering and the like. But with state budgets in so much trouble these days, how can they offer this largesse to dopey movie stars, while also getting into an arms race with other states?
Kinsley was set off by an op-ed in Sunday's NYT by Bill Richardson (in which the former NM Gov. defended the payouts, saying movies are "America’s most important cultural export." So true.) The columnist brandishes a report from budget think tank to put the lie to the economic spinoff studies used to support the subsides. They typically include "stunts":
such as counting the allowances film crews are paid for expenses as a benefit to the state and then counting the same money again when it is spent. Or assuming without explanation that the average film crew member makes $82,400 a year, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics sets that figure at $35,000. The most outrageous double counting, of course, is telling one state after another that it can bring in billions by enticing the same movies away from other states.
He goes back to Richardson, and Erie, for the kicker:
“Governors and legislatures should call ‘cut!’ on cynical efforts to kill forward-looking incentive programs for film and TV production, in New Mexico and in all other states,” Richardson writes. “Cynical” is an odd word to describe people (and there aren’t many) who want deeply indebted state governments to stop forgoing billions in tax revenue in the futile effort to entice the movie business to make its next Western in Erie, Pa., or wherever.
Did you watch the Oscars on Sunday? Did that look like a crowd in need of a government subsidy?
Last week the Corbett administration released tax subsidies the state already owed to filmmakers -- under state law they frontload their expenses, and then get back a check from the state later -- but that doesn't mean the new governor will support them in the 2011-12 fiscal year. (He may address the program in his March 8 budget.) Of course the Pittsburgh Film Office will be doing all it can to lobby for more incentives -- they've long packed their board with both Republican and Democratic names -- so there's still a long road ahead.