CA boosts film subsidies while Michigan could cut them

Michigan filmLast September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a $330 million film subsidy bill to help Hollywood fend off subsidies from other states. He said, “Today, we remind the world that the Golden State is the home of the silver screen. This bill helps thousands of Californians, from stage hands and set designers to electricians and delivery drivers.”

That’s up from the previous yearly subsidy of $100 million.

Other states are having second thoughts about subsidizing their own Tinseltowns. “Last week the Michigan House voted to end the state’s film incentive program, which has spent $500 million to lure movie makers into shooting projects in Detroit and elsewhere,” reported the Wall Street Journal.

Current Wolverine State subsidies are $39 million a year. Adjusting for Michigan’s 10 million population compared to California’s 39 million, the equivalent here would be $152 million.

According to the Journal, “Former Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm promoted the credit to create jobs and develop a permanent film industry.” Although born in Canada, Granholm was raised in California and started out with a Hollywood acting career that didn’t last long. She’s currently receiving a salary partly paid by California taxpayers as a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Granholm’s term in office, 2003-2011, was almost exactly concurrent with that of another California actor who supported film subsidies, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But as the Journal reported, there are problems with the subsidies:

“Michigan’s Senate Fiscal Agency found in 2010 that for every dollar the state spends on the program, it recoups 11 cents. There were 100 fewer film-industry jobs in Michigan in 2013 than there were in 2008, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data dug up by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s James Hohman and Jarrett Skorup. By the Michigan Film Office’s own report, the program didn’t create a single permanent job in 2013.”

“Meantime, the state has grappled with a $532 million shortfall in the general fund, due mostly to more than $9 billion in other corporate welfare commitments dished out under Gov. Granholm.”

Michigan, like California, generally is a Democratic state. It last voted for a Republican for president in 1988, the same as California. And it last voted for a Republican to the U.S. Senate in 1994, compared to 1988 for California.

But after Granholm’s tenure, when she presided over the nation’s highest unemployment rate during the Great Recession, Michigan rebelled against Democratic rule for the state itself. Currently it is ruled by a Republican governor, Rick Snyder, and Republican-controlled Legislature.

Yet, the Journal reported, “The bill to end the movie moolah now heads to the Senate, where it could be scuttled by film-subsidy friendly Republicans, despite the GOP’s 27-11 majority. Even Governor Snyder, who has long opposed the film program, seems to be getting stage fright: Last week he told reporters that an abrupt end to the incentives wasn’t ‘the appropriate answer.’”

It may be that, despite the economics of the film subsidies, people can’t help being stagestruck.

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John Seiler

John Seiler

John Seiler has been writing about California for 25 years. That includes 22 years as an editorial writer for the Orange County Register and two years for CalWatchDog.com, where he is managing editor. He attended the University of Michigan and graduated from Hillsdale College. He was a Russian linguist in U.S. Army military intelligence from 1978 to 1982. He was an editor and writer for Phillips Publishing Company from 1983 to 1986. He has written for Policy Review, Chronicles, LewRockwell.com, Flash Report and numerous other publications. His email: [email protected]

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