Movie tax breaks are fiscally foolish

By TIM KALICH,

It’s not clear whether Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves is against incentives for the film industry because they are a poor investment, or because the Hollywood types who benefit from the tax breaks tend to be liberal and don’t support conservative politicians, such as the Republican Reeves.

Doesn’t matter.

Reeves is right and should hold firm against reviving the most ridiculous of Mississippi’s film incentives, which used to provide a 25 percent cash rebate on the payroll paid to cast and crew members who are not even Mississippi residents.

That giveaway died a deserved death two years ago after a legislative watchdog group reaffirmed what other studies have shown: The government bankrolling of filmmakers is one of the most senseless subsidies there is.

When the Legislative Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee crunched the numbers, it found that for every dollar Mississippi gave to filmmakers in incentives, the state ended up losing 51 cents. Although the communities, including this one, that hosted movie productions might have gotten a temporary economic boost and some thrills out of rubbing shoulders with the stars, the rest of the state came away poorer as a result.

This week, state Rep. Jeff Smith, a Republican from Columbus, ignored that research and used his position as House Ways and Means Committee chairman to push through a bill to restore the payroll rebates for out-of-state cast and crew members. Somebody must be working on a movie deal in Columbus, because Smith’s arguments for his bill were dubious.

“To compete with Louisiana, we need to double what we are offering,” he said.

One point the PEER report implied was that the last thing Mississippi needs to do is compete with Louisiana, unless it wants to beat its neighbor to the poorhouse.  While Mississippi was losing 51 cents on every dollar invested on filmmaking, PEER found, Louisiana was losing 77 cents. Let it keep all that business it wants.

If refusing to subsidize the salaries of Matthew McConaughey and Emma Stone means Mississippi won’t see many big movies made here anymore, so be it.

The state would probably come out better to just buy every resident a ticket to go watch their films when they come out.