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Warning: Increase Film Subsides Now and Risk Regrets Later

The ink on the 2011-2012 state budget is barely dry, but Michigan Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, has declared that he already wants to change something. The $47 billion spending plan that Gov. Rick Snyder signed on Tuesday includes a $25 million, one-time allowance for film subsidies in Michigan. This replaces the previous subsidy program, enacted in 2008, which gave unlimited tax breaks/subsidies of up to 42 percent of money spent in Michigan on movie production.

But on Tuesday, a newspaper column cited Richardville, R-Monroe, on the film subsidies:

“(Richardville) said the $25 million allocated to the state’s film incentive program for new movie projects isn’t enough for the state to remain competitive. He said he’d spend the summer redrafting the program.”

Richardville previously told Michigan Capitol Confidential that he was working on a bill to change the film subsidies that would “take a different form than a tax rebate”:

“There’s a decent chance it will get introduced in the month of June. That’ll revise the entire program that was in place during the Granholm administration.”

Either way, Richardville and other legislators may want to be very cautious about how they proceed with expanding film subsidies beyond what the governor has agreed to. At least three of their present or former colleagues have found themselves backtracking, equivocating or defending themselves after voting for the original, unlimited film subsidy program in 2008.

Just two months after voting for the original legislation, Rep. Chuck Moss, R-Birmingham, appeared in a Michigan Chamber of Commerce video titled, “Michigan's Business Comedy,” with the caption: “How to Lower Your Michigan Business Liability... and Win an Oscar While You're At It”.  The video is a tongue-in-cheek look at the subsidies filmmakers get under the 2008 legislation at the expense of those paying the burdensome Michigan Business Tax. Moss states in the video:

“If tax rebates are good enough for movies, why not give them to everyone? Well, but then you’d have to cut government spending to balance the budget. And a lot of folks in Lansing think that’s scarier than a slasher flick, so don’t hold your breath.”

A June 15 story in the Livingston Daily is titled “Hune Flips on Movie Stance”, referring to Hamburg Republican  Joe Hune’s vote for the 2008 film subsidy package when he was in the House, then changing his tune when he successfully for the Michigan Senate last year:

“During his Senate campaign, Hune admitted he didn't realize the program amounts to a subsidy to filmmakers when he voted for it, and would vote to end the program if elected.”

U.S. Congressman Bill Huizenga is perhaps the highest profile lawmaker to backpedal. As a state representative in 2008, Huizenga took credit for pushing the original legislation, telling Variety magazine in March of that year: 

"This is an incredible way to show the world all that Michigan's diverse landscape has to offer," said Huizenga, R-Zeeland. "We have a rich history in the creative arts, and I believe we will continue that tradition with this aggressive incentive."

Three years later, nearly to the day, Huizenga told a Grand Rapids television station that he supported Gov. Snyder’s “roll back of film incentives”:

“Michigan Congressman Bill Huizenga says ‘circumstances change’ and he's not second guessing plans to roll back the film incentives he helped pass into law three years ago…’A Michigan State University study says it brings money into Michigan,’ he says. ‘But the Mackina(c) Center says no, it costs. So, there are questions that hang out there.’”

Whether or not he’s taking into consideration these high-profile retreats, Richardville does acknowledge that the political climate is different now than it was in 2008, agreeing with another legislator who told Michigan Capitol Confidential, “If the original film incentive bill was introduced today, I don’t think it would have the votes to get passed.”


See also:

Michigan Senator Calls Notion of 'Stealth' Film Subsidy Effort 'Absurd'

Do 'Stealthy' Michigan Senators Want to Spend $100 Million on Film Subsidies?

Commentary: Republican Legislators Try to Resurrect Film Subsidies

Cap the Film Incentives and Kill the Film Industry in Michigan? Not Yet

State Subsidies for Hollywood Dying in Iowa and Drawing Fire In Missouri and Michigan

Hollywood Battles Michigan's New Budget Chief

Firefighters or Mitch Albom's Movie Subsidy?

Michigan Film Subsidies: Two Years, $117m — and No Film Job Growth