March 12, 2009
Money for movies

Clay Robison reminds me of something in a discussion of Governor Perry's resistance to spending stimulus money on expanding unemployment insurance.

Right after giving the back of his hand to thousands of jobless workers, he was promoting a $60-million handout for the film industry.

Yes, the industry that pays some of its top stars almost that much for a single picture and seems to always thrive, even in a struggling economy, because fans are willing to spend small fortunes on movie tickets and popcorn.

Perry, who once had a bit part in a movie, has asked the Legislature to increase the state's financial incentives for movie and TV productions from the $20 million budgeted for the current biennium to $60 million for 2010-11.

He wants to encourage more film production in Texas and compete with other states that have lured production away with sweeter deals. The incentives, he says, would help create jobs in Texas for technicians and other specialists who are paid far less than the screen idols.

It is, however, a niche industry, and relatively few Texans have the skills necessary for the higher-quality jobs.

Perry is leery of the $555 million in federal unemployment aid, part of the financial stimulus package, because it would require Texas to expand its jobless program to allow more people to qualify for assistance. He said the aid would leave Texas on the hook for a half-billion dollars in additional costs when the federal aid ends.

I noted that push to increase the subsidy for filmmaking in Texas back in December, and said at the time that I'd bring it up when Perry inevitably balked at spending money on something else by claiming a lack of funds. So here it is. Since Ken Armbrister, Perry's legislative director, has said that "The hardest thing to remove from government is a temporary program", I presume the movie subsidy is intended to be an ongoing expense. As I said before, I'm agnostic on the question of whether or not this is a good use of public money. I think it's clear, however, that in terms of bang for the buck the unemployment insurance funds, for which the state might be on the hook in the future for a lot less than the half-billion the Governor claims, would help a lot more people right now and going forward. We don't have to choose between these two if we don't want to - we could do both, if we think they're both worthwhile. If we think only one of them is, or than only one can be justified in this climate, however, I know which one I'd pick.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 12, 2009 to Budget ballyhoo
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