“This is one of the most exciting developments in recent years,” said Cassis, R-Novi. “It’s a tribute to the commitment, perseverance, and enthusiasm of Jimmy Lifton. He demonstrates the impact that one person with a clear vision can have on our economy.”
Who's vision Nancy? That one person this time was Jennifer Granholm - and if you want to get real technical, the biggest push came from Republican Bill Huizenga, and this actually started many years ago. Back in 2004, the West Michigan Film Video Alliance formed to promote Michigan's movie potential. After "The Road to Perdition" and "8 Mile" were shot in the state, people began to sit up and take notice of the money and jobs that accompanied production. By September 17th of 2005, an editorial in the GR Press endorsed the idea - with the tax incentives of places like Canada, Louisana, and New Mexico already set as our target.
Once Michigan's incentive package is in place, we can take the next steps to creating a thriving industry here. We invite regional economic leaders to work with us to create unique incentives and a marketing plan to promote West Michigan to filmmakers and commercial advertising agencies.
By October of 2005, Huizenga was proposing that film would receive 100% credit on SBT sales tax on budgets of over a quarter of a million, with a graduated break for smaller budgets, and they would also receive a rebate of 30% on top of that. The Michigan Film Office started to get more involved at promoting the idea, as did other legislators, Democrats from the Detroit area according to press reports. By July of 2006, a bill had passed the House, but was stalled in the Senate (surprise!), due to "some legislators" who "preferred general tax cuts". Tick, tick, tick, went the clock - it was an election year after all, and we couldn't have anything good happen under the watchful eye of Dick DeVos, could we? - and the bills finally passed in the lame duck at the end of 2006, with Cassis complaining all the way.
In the end, the Senate wasted over a year of our time with their obstruction, and they cost us jobs and investment. They finally relented after they had their hat handed to them in the election. In 2007, we saw some films shot here, and a new film studio open in Holland, but by then we had a problem. From the Detroit News, Jan. 3, 2008:
But Michigan's plan wasn't adopted until several years after it was designed -- allowing at least a dozen states to leapfrog Michigan with better offers, said Bob Brown, a movie producer and member of the Michigan Film Advisory Commission.
"We were late to the party and by the time the package got signed into law, it was no longer competitive," he said.
Now we know who was responsible for that. Realizing that we had a hit on our hands but we needed to be more competitive, the governor turned up the heat, and pushed for the higher incentives that would beat everyone in the country. In the 2008 State of the State Address, as part of a "Michigan economic stimulus", Granholm called for a 40% credit, and it passed a few months after.
Which brings us back to today, and Unity Studios. Cassis wants to avoid reality of what really landed this project, and instead focus on her push to lower the credit - but balance that with some populism by insisting that firms hire 90% Michigan workers, and add bigger breaks for "infrastructure". Fortunately the Detroit News puts that one to rest immediately.
Sources said Michigan's aggressive tax credit policy for moviemakers -- which provides a refundable 42 percent break -- was key in landing the Unity Studios project. Because state law provides the biggest credit for in-state workers, having a steady stable of Michiganians already employed at the facility opens the door for production companies to get the big tax breaks.
The Freep has Bob Ficano on record as saying "the project stems directly from the film incentives Michigan enacted last year".
Last year. Maybe Senator Cassis should now acknowledge that it was Governor Granholm who was instrumental at bringing this particular studio to Michigan. She would, if she were an honest human being, but that is probably expecting a little too much from people who live to thwart progress in this state.
MIRS reported yesterday that Jud Gilbert is backing off the effort to reduce our incentives, acknowledging that they don't have the support - but he threatens that it will be back and used as a weapon if the economy continues to slide. In the meantime, perhaps the Senate Republicans should stop making these threats, because they have cost us even more jobs. Today, it comes out that the talk of reducing our credits has scared away business. Three industry professionals talk to the Michigan Business Review, and Jeff Spilman, managing partner at S3 Entertainment Group in Ferndale, tells it like it is.
Even the suggestion of a cap sends a chilling effect to Hollywood, Spilman said. Three productions planning to come to Michigan immediately pulled out of the state at the introduction of a similar bill last year, he said. That meant a loss of 450 jobs. Additionally, with a $50 million cap, nobody is going to build infrastructure for the industry, and with infrastructure comes permanent jobs.
Senate Republicans are bad for business, and Cassis obviously is more interested in partisan games than she is at creating a vibrant industry in this state. She does, however, make an excellent argument for term limits - she can't hit the door fast enough.