Monday, November 21, 2011

You Couldn't Write a Better Script for Failure

Do Republicans want to bring the film industry and its jobs to Michigan?

Looking at their plan to require legislative approval for the tax credits for each movie, I wonder.

The proposed legislation would replace former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm's program that allowed qualified film projects to receive refundable tax credits of up to 42 percent of the cost of the projects. Instead of a maximum of 42 percent, the legislation would have maximum credits ranging from 25 percent to 32 percent, depending on the type of expenditure, according to the Livingston Press and Argus.

The problem I have is not so much with the reduced percentages, although it's strange that wages for the crew is reimbursed at the lowest level. If the object is jobs, it seems like that would merit a higher reimbursement rate. Even so, my biggest concern is with the notion that instead of being administered by a state film office, the tax credits would be voted on as an appropriation for each film by the Legislature. That process has multiple pitfalls. In fact, if you wanted to script the failure of the process, I don't think you could write a better one than what is in the Republican bill.

Great film projects surface on their own timetable, not the Legislature's. The legislative process is a cumbersome, time-consuming one. What happens if a filmmaker seeks a tax credit at a time when the Legislature is off on one of its many recesses? Won't a film office in a competing state be able to authorize tax credits before our lawmakers can get back from their summer vacations?

Will this process favor large corporations, who can afford expensive lobbyists, over start-up companies who can't? Some small Michigan companies are doing great work in the film industry, but they could wind up being shut out in favor of large, well-established studios with political muscle.

Might it mean campaign contributions from those corporate PACs will find their way into the campaign coffers of lawmakers who support Film A over Film B? Will lawmakers try to oppose some sort of values litmus test on the films that are awarded tax credits? What sort of disputes will that lead to that can delay or even kill a proposed appropriation? How is that "business friendly"? What filmmaker will want to bother when they can go elsewhere?

The film industry can be a valuable industry that will provide high-paying, long-term jobs for Michigan's creative and talented work force, especially if post-production studios have a chance to establish themselves. But I fear the legislative approval process for films is unworkable, and maybe even designed to fail.

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