We’ve all known the disappointment of a television series that ends badly. Whether a truncated season wrapped up with a too-tidy bow (Game of Thrones) or an ambiguous fade-to-black (The Sopranos), we can sometimes feel the time we invested in a show was misspent.
That’s a little like the Texas Legislature. With just days left before the end of the regular session, many Texans wonder whether some important goals—including ending a program that gives taxpayer dollars to film and television projects—will be achieved, or if we’ll just be disappointed again.
The Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program hands out cash grants to movie, television, commercial or video game products—representing between 5 percent and 20 percent of the project’s eligible expenses.
The program may get twice the amount it received last session, when it received $22 million. While this session’s House version of the budget would decrease this amount to $4.8 million, the Senate version would increase it to $43 million.
Instead of giving away taxpayer dollars through this program, the program itself should go away.
There are many reasons why this money would be better left in taxpayers’ pockets instead of letting government pick winners and losers.
First, research on state film incentive programs shows that in most cases the programs create a fiscal cost for the states while the jobs created are mostly temporary and part-time. Moreover, some of the jobs go to non-state residents who are on location only for the production time. This means some of the subsidies will likely leave the states handing them out.
Another problem we ignore when government decides to hand out taxpayer money to “prop up” industries is the one of comparative advantage.
Texas is (decidedly) not Hollywood. That’s not to say that there should be no film industry in Texas. In fact, movies were filmed in Texas before the program was created in 2007, even while our neighboring state of Louisiana was already offering an incentive program.
Does that mean that some productions would come without the subsidies? Probably. If you want to film the Alamo or fields of bluebonnets, Texas is better than Louisiana (no offense to Louisiana).
The San Antonio Express-Newsreported that San Antonio’s marketing, film and music administrator acknowledges that some productions come even when they don’t qualify for the state program.
The success of a movie should be decided at the box office—that is, by the number of individuals who choose to buy a theater ticket to watch it.
Investors are more likely to take higher risks with someone else’s—especially taxpayer—money, than with their own. The Beacon Center of Tennessee reported that 40 percent of the productions that received grants made less at the box office than the amount of incentives granted.
Why should anyone be forced to pay for movie productions? If you love movies, you can patronize movie theaters and film productions by buying tickets to or DVDs of movies. If you love “Game of Thrones” and similar shows, you can pay for an HBO subscription.
But what if you’d rather buy a book, go to a sports event or a museum, or eat at your local restaurant? Worse, what if you can’t afford any of those things because you are unable to keep up with increasingly high taxes?
No one should be forced to fund a particular industry against their will. That’s what these subsidies do, though.
These kinds of subsidies (given out by the governments of Spain and Northern Ireland, among others) helped to make “Game of Thrones” immensely profitable. But what if the Iron Throne isn’t their citizens’ cup of tea? They’re still paying for them, just as Texas taxpayers paid for “Mongolian Death Worm” (9 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) in 2010.
The fact is, even without film and television subsidies, Texas has much to offer from its gorgeous landscape, to its skilled labor, to its business-friendly environment. One of Texas’ comparative advantages over other states (including film industry realms California and New York) is the Texas Model of limited government, lower taxes, and less regulation. This model gives Texans more and better opportunities to prosper and Texan businesses more opportunities to innovate and thrive.
Texas should be loyal to its successful model and stop favoring select businesses by handing out subsidies, special tax treatments, or other government privileges for them to come here. The moving image industry incentive program should not receive our taxpayer dollars anymore.
Carine Martinez is a senior policy analyst with the Texas Public Policy Foundation.