News item: Governor Perry is among those pushing to spend more money to bring filmmakers to Texas.
Perry is proposing making $40 million available in the coming two-year state budget to improve incentives for productions in Texas. He plans to throw his support behind a film incentive bill once the Legislature convenes Jan. 13.
In Texas, feature film production spending was $25.6 million for fiscal year 2008, which ended in August, an improvement over the less than $1 million spent in 2007, the governor's office said.
But in 2006 it was nearly $59 million, and in the heyday of 2003-04 spending to make feature films in the state was nearly $95 million and $80 million, respectively.
TPJ: Texas Taxpayers Can't Afford to Make Movies
By Lauren Reinlie, Texans for Public Justice
Imagine that you've got a big budget to film a documentary epic about contemporary Texas. The script contains inspirational stuff worthy of the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum but also delves into Texas' No. 50 ranking in state spending on infrastructure, parks, healthcare and education. Interviewing people to put a human face on the Lone Star's dark side, the job suddenly becomes uncomfortable. You wonder why you feel responsible for these sick, hungry kids. Then it hits you. Once your film is shot, you will dun Texas taxpayers to pay 5 percent of your production costs. With so many human needs requiring state assistance, what entitles movie producers to cut to the front of the soup line? And why are film lobbyists in Austin demanding an even bigger handout?
Texas lawmakers first authorized subsidies for producers of films, television shows, TV ads and video games in 2007. Texas taxpayers now pay 5 percent of anything that qualifying production projects spend in the state. The Texas Film Commission has approved $10 million in subsidies to date, dedicating 60 percent of these funds to big-ticket feature films and TV programs. Nonetheless, three-fourths of the 160 projects that the state has approved for subsidies are to shoot TV commercials. In fact, more than 50 of the commercials subsidized by Texas taxpayers promote such corporate behemoths as AT&T, Bayer, Hyundai, Sony, Shell and Wal-Mart.
Re-igniting the Land Rush in 2001, Oklahoma was one of the first states to offer film subsidies, which at least 40 states now dole out. Subsidy fans say they create jobs, attract out-of-state investment and boost Texas tourism. But they also say that Texas' two-year-old program already is inadequate, spurring producers to chase bigger bounties in other states. In the legislative session that opens in January, the Texas film industry plans to press lawmakers to triple Texas' subsidies. Yet even if it agrees to pay 15 percent of a film's budget, Texas still won't be competitive. Massachusetts now offers 25 percent subsidies and recession-reeling Michigan pays 42 percent of film budgets.
Significantly, the fattest-subsidy states are experiencing buyer's remorse. Some estimates project that Michigan's record film subsidies may cost $200 million a year. The Massachusetts Revenue Department recently estimated that for every tax dollar given to producers the state recoups no more than 23 cents. Texas cannot afford to compete in the race to give producers the most tax dollars with the fewest safeguards. Rather than woo producers who roam the globe in search of the biggest taxpayer handouts, Texas should invest in social programs that help the millions of Texans who have a greater claim to this state's meager assistance.
(Texans for Public Justice has released an in-depth report on taxpayer film subsidies, which is available at our Watch Your Assets page at www.tpj.org)
Reinlie is director of the Watch Your Assets Project at Texans for Public Justice.