Monday, July 23, 2007

Welfare For Film Makers

Oklahoma law books contain a number of sections tucked away into thousands of pages which allow a specific group to assert their claim to the state treasury at the expense of the taxpayers.

This August a new law will take effect making it easier for one of those groups to take the people's money. That law is known as the "Compete With Canada Film Act".

Initially established in 2001, the act was touted as being cutting edge by those who supported it. The Oklahoma Senate claimed the act would be triple the highest incentive of any state in the country in providing cash incentives to Oklahoma's film producers. The bill's author said the law would produce results similar to the state getting a professional sports franchise.

The bill provided a 15% cash rebate on money spent in the state for film production to film makers. In other words, 15% of the film producer's cost of doing business in Oklahoma would be paid for by the taxpayers. The bill also established a number of criteria that the film maker must meet in order to claim the rebate.

You are perhaps wondering why someone in the film industry would have any more right to force the taxpayers to pay 15% of their business costs than those who work in any other industry. Most small business owners would attest that they would benefit if the state were pay 15% of their cost of doing business.

Despite the passage of the legislation a significant number of rebates were not claimed.

Instead of seeing the program as a failure the rebate supporters started lobbying the legislature to set aside a sizable block of funding for the rebate. In supporting this action the director of the Oklahoma Film and Music Commission stated that four or five films were ready come into Oklahoma, and a $5 million expenditure would more than cover the expenses of the rebate money for those films.

A group known as “The Oklahoma Film Project” held a press conference saying they would announce a comprehensive plan to bring domestic and international filmmakers to Oklahoma if the legislature voted to better fund the 15% film incentive rebates.

In 2005 the legislature set aside $5 million of our taxpayer funds for the rebate. The money was placed on a first-come, first-serve basis for the expected flood of film makers who would want to claim the funds.

So, how many film makers claimed the rebate?

None! The $5 million of tax rebates have yet to be used! Not one dollar has been paid out.

At least the taxpayers' costs appear to be limited to the bureaucracy involved in overseeing the failed program.

Once again, instead of acknowledging the program's failure, the legislature approved Senate Bill 623 which goes into effect in August making it easier for the film industry to take the money by significantly lowering the criteria that they must meet to claim the rebate. For example, in the original law film makers had to spend at least $1.25 million in Oklahoma. Now, they only need to spend $300,000. The criteria that the subsidized film be part of a recognizable distribution agreement will be lifted in some cases and requirements that the film production company hire Oklahomans are lessened.

In arguing for the lessening of these restrictions the director of the Oklahoma film commission stated that Oklahoma should no longer try to focus on recruiting big name productions but should instead focus on "small independents.”

So for a third time those wanting taxpayers subsidies for film producers have a new opportunity to take our money. Hopefully the program will once again be unsuccessful and the legislature will take the common sense step of closing the program down.

It is immoral for big government to use it's power to take from us through high taxes and fees so that it can give our money to other individuals and corporations.

Instead of picking and choosing who will succeed in the business world, Oklahoma's leaders should be lowering taxes and regulations. This would enable everyone to have a greater opportunity for success.

No comments: