Baker’s movie play
Gov. Charlie Baker is demonstrating that he can roll out a budget very skillfully. Using the Boston Globe as his message delivery system, the governor this week has unveiled a number of good government initiatives designed to cast him in a positive light before he unveils his budget on Wednesday and starts taking heat for spending cuts expected to total more than $1 billion.
His latest initiative is a clever bit of policy and politics. He is proposing to phase out the state’s controversial film tax credit and use the savings to double the state’s earned income tax credit. Basically, the Republican governor wants to give tax breaks to low-income working families instead of the Hollywood producers who have come to love Massachusetts as a Hollywood backlot.
Former governor Deval Patrick tried numerous times to scale back the film tax credit during his administration, but all of those head-on attempts were beaten back in the House. Baker is taking a different approach. Instead of attacking the film tax credit directly, he’s suggesting the earned income tax credit would be a better use of scarce state funds.
His proposal will endear him to the state’s liberals and put the film tax credit’s political boosters — most of them, including Speaker Robert DeLeo, Democratic members of the House — in an awkward position. How do you push for tax breaks for Hollywood actors and directors at the expense of poor, working families here in Massachusetts?
The House’s budget chief, Rep. Brian Dempsey, just smiled when asked about Baker’s political strategy. “I think it’s a fascinating proposal,” he said.
Most studies of the film tax credit show it has been very effective in drawing movies to Massachusetts, but not so effective in building a stand-alone film industry here. That started to change a bit, with the construction of New England Studios in Devens, but the emerging film industry in Massachusetts is still heavily reliant on the film tax credit for its survival.
In an interview with the Globe’s Akilah Johnson, Baker twisted the facts a bit to suit his purposes. In a bid to show the film tax credit isn’t necessary for a thriving Bay State film industry, he said it was hard to conclude from the studies he has reviewed that the the film tax credit was “the most fundamental piece of why someone chooses to make a film here.”
Baker should go back and read those studies again. All of the data suggest the film tax credit is the primary reason why Hollywood comes to Massachusetts. Producers may rave about the scenery, but the prospect of having taxpayers foot the bill for 25 percent of whatever they spend in Massachusetts is what draws them here. Remember, gov, it’s all about the money.
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