Thursday, February 24, 2011

Mitch and the movies

I’m pretty committed to staying out of the Michigan budget debate.  Don’t think there’s much to say there that hasn’t been said by somebody else at some point.

But you-know-who apparently blackmailed the Free Press editors into launching a mini hissy fit over Gov. Rick Snyder’s thumping of Michigan’s “incentives” for the film industry.  So the past few days saw the Freep roll out a host of (totally unbiased) articles and opinion pieces by a couple people who really, really want to take your money and give it to their friends.  And really, I’m just confused on this one.

Albom:

And before you say, "Who needs those Hollywood types?", consider all the carpenters, electricians and drivers this thriving industry put to work. Consider the hotels, restaurants, car rentals. Ask yourself if any other field grew 100 times over -- from $2 million to $225 million -- in two years, if any other field kept our young, bright minds from leaving or brought more attention to the beauty and talent of our state.

I mean…I guess.  It’s no secret that Mitch is a pretty liberal guy, which is fine, but isn’t that first sentence basically “trickle down” economics?  And the second sentence…well that’s just Albom discovering that if you give people a lot of money, they’ll tend to do stuff. 

And Albom then closes with this irony-sensor-exploding gem:

Because our Michigan can't be viewed only through a CEO's lens, a budget that shows little regard for poor and elderly people, but twists like a pretzel for certain businesses.

Twists like a pretzel for certain businesses.  Which is different from twisting like a pretzel for certain industries.  Or something.

Albom actually makes some decent points in his piece – particularly, that there’s more to being an “attractive” state in a business sense than just having low taxes.  And he’s right.  But that valid point is lost in a piece where the main point - amidst all the “creative” and “beauty” and “hip” and “young minds” mumbo jumbo – is just “I would like you to give a lot of money to this industry that I happen to like.”

Last week, there was Jeff Daniels, who looked at Snyder’s budget and said:

"The sound you hear today is of people packing and leaving the state," Daniels said by phone, describing the potential impact of Snyder's budget proposal, which would eliminate the film tax credit as we now know it.

Really?  Film subsidies?  That’s what did it?  This would be like me catching a cold this week and saying, “Now I’m REALLY worried about my health!”

The final opinion piece is from Mike Binder, an actor, screenwriter, director, and producer who tells us “As far as I’m concerned Michigan is the greatest state in the country, bar none.”  Which is good, since he’s a California resident who somehow had a hand in orchestrating a forcible transfer of money from Michigan residents to his friends in his industry.

Oh and there’s this awesomely-timed report (commissioned last year and coincidentally released on Monday): Study finds film incentives bring millions to state coffers.  Sounds made up. 

I’m not even sure if this is a partisan issue, but apparently Democrats support the credits by a wide margin, while Republicans oppose them by a narrower margin.

And I don’t get it.  Isn’t this a bunch of stuff Democrats/liberals are supposed to hate?  Benefits “trickling down” from big corporations to blue collar workers?  Lobbyists and industry officials lining up to get their share of the pie?  Politically-connected rich white guys meeting with government officials to divert public money to people and industries that they like?  Tax dollars collected from Michiganders and given to out-of-staters?  How can you claim these favorable tax rates are critical to the film industry and create jobs and then complain that a more favorable tax rate for every other business in Michigan is a terrible idea because it won’t create any jobs?  Substitute “oil industry” for “film industry,” and Albom is leading an angry mob instead of e-mailing the governor and writing glowing columns.

I know it creates jobs.  Or, rather, it employs certain people who probably already have jobs in particular favored industries for a certain period of time until you run out of other people’s money.  Of course you can rattle off a list of “benefits.”  For a couple hundred million dollars, you better be able to do that.  That’s not the point.  The question is whether it is politically and economically justified to take money from people and give it to this particular industry because…hell, I don’t know.  Because Mitch Albom thinks its a good idea?  Everything I’ve read defending this thing boils down to little more than, “I like this.”  You can dress it up in whatever platitudes you like, but that’s still the message. 

“I like this” is not a political or economic philosophy.  It shouldn’t be given an uncontested platform in a major state newspaper, and it certainly shouldn’t justify taking money from Michiganders and giving it to your friends. 

1 comment:

  1. the tax incentives were a good idea and they were working, until snyder capped them. everyone that is familiar with the film incentive program acknowledges that it is a net expense for the state (in terms of dollars paid out vs. tax revenue generated) but from a standing start in 2008, it has generated ~1b in economic activity in michigan that would not have otherwise occurred, it has attracted big name stars that have created a lot of sexy press for a state that needs to rehab its image, and it has enabled many young, talented and creative people to stay in the state. also, with investments in physical infrastructure (e.g., raleigh Studios in pontiac), it started to do more. at what cost? so far, the state has paid out less than 100m (they will be paying more but there is a lag).

    i think you can fairly argue that the incentive should be limited due to the budget deficit and the need to make sacrifices but capping it is the wrong way to go - it would have been wiser to reduce the percent payout. you can reduce it 10 percent and still be competitive with other states that have similar programs. this would take some pressure off the budget but still induce film companies to take a look at michigan. with a $25m cap, they don't even want to waste their time looking.

    a better target of your scorn would be album's article today about snyder v. phelps - doubt he even skimmed the majority opinion before writing that gem.

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