Thursday, June 10, 2010

Republican Attitude on Michigan's Film Industry: "Let's Kill It"

No surprise here. Story after story has appeared over the past couple years on how the Republicans, as led by Nancy Cassis dancing at the direction of the extremists at the right wing Mackinac Center, have scared away jobs and businesses with their constant criticism of this industry. An example from August, 2009:

Already, industry insiders say, the state has lost hundreds of millions in film spending to other states since talk of cutting or scrapping the credit surfaced late last year, a charge led by Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi, chairwoman of the State Finance Committee. Others warn that cutting the credit could push business away from Michigan's fledgling industry simply because there hasn't been enough time to build a sufficient infrastructure -- studios and such -- capable of supporting long-term business.

Legislative proposals, "even if unsupported, cause talk and rumors that cost Michigan a number of productions and jobs," said Jeff Spilman, managing partner of Ferndale's S3 Entertainment Group, which has worked to bring a number of feature film and television series projects to the state.

Now we have word that Janet Lockwood, head of the Michigan Film Office, is retiring. It could be that after 19 years in that position, the last two incredibly hectic as the business took off with the new incentives, she just decided it was time. Or, it could be she got tired of being harassed by a few incompetent legislators that were hell-bent on playing political games with her job. It's hard to tell the real reason, but the story this morning from the GR Press uses words like "storm of criticism" and certainly plays on that angle. And as usual, that criticism is coming from a select few loud mouths only, that being Cassis, Rep. Dave Agema, who appears to be simply piling on at this point, and the director of the destruction, Michael LaFaive of the Mac Center. LaFaive cynically questioned the timing of Lockwood's retirement, while Cassis and Agema inadvertently pleaded their own incompetence. Watch:

State Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville, and Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi, both critics of film incentives, said they didn't blame Lockwood for the issues as much as they did the poorly crafted incentives program she administered.

"My biggest thing is this whole thing with the film credits was when it was sold to us it was going to be good for Michigan and make money," Agema said.

"My attitude was: If it makes money, fine. If it doesn't make money, let's kill it. That's my attitude now, let's kill it."

In the past few years, the film incentives have created over 8,000 jobs, the "bulk" of crew jobs paying $30 an hr., and the business went from a "couple of million" a year to over $220 million last year - not to mention the blockbuster summer of filming that is expected this year, the new studios that are planning to open in the Detroit area, and the college classes that are filling up to train for this industry. It has "made money" for Michigan, that much is very obvious. It has also attracted the creative class to this state and kept some of our young people here. And any "questions" about the structure of the incentives that have arisen can be laid right back at the feet of the people who passed the legislation in the first place.

Cassis said Lockwood's departure doesn't mean any substantial change will take place that would allow the public better scrutiny of its work.

"People can come and go, but if the transparency and the disclosure is not in place, the system remains the same, the culture remains the same," she said.

It certainly does - but the culture Cassis speaks of is the dysfunction of the legislature itself. Although Cassis has written bills calling for more transparency, it's very telling that clueless Agema didn't know a thing about them.

Agema said he's in the process of authoring similar legislation but wasn't aware of Cassis' Senate bills.

You would think that someone who claims to know what he is talking about would be aware of any legislation that has passed concerning the issue, but then again that would require Agema to actually care about the quality of his work and not direct his focus on playing partisan political games for election year purposes. We can't have quality and competence though, can we? It certainly wouldn't fit in with the current Republican "culture" in the Capitol - that being to over-hype problems in an effort to downplay any economic success, probably because success doesn't fit with their campaign theme this year. Call it a hunch.

Republicans have seized on the deal with Hangar 42 in Walker as an example of the need for more transparency. Questions have come up about the value of the building and the credit they are claiming - and there is really nothing wrong with more scrutiny when it comes to tax credits, but that's not what is going on here. People like Cassis, Agema and LaFaive are using this one example as an excuse to can the whole program. It's like saying, "Hey, that window is broken, so let's burn down the whole house". And who really knows why Lockwood is retiring, but since they pulled the very same "witch hunt" with Greg Main and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation over the deal in Flint, causing business leaders to send an open letter telling them to knock it off because they were costing us jobs...

Stung by a growing chorus of criticism over the effectiveness of state tax incentive programs, a group of business leaders overseeing Michigan's economic development office says the criticism is "unwarranted" and harmful to business attraction efforts.

In a highly unusual move, the executive committee of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. issued an open letter Tuesday to the media and Legislature, warning that businesses looking to invest could go elsewhere if the future of the MEDC is threatened.

"Political in-fighting is a clear warning to business that a state lacks a cohesive climate for economic development and a clear signal to invest elsewhere," said the letter, signed by the 17-member committee.

... maybe it's time to start bringing a little more "transparency" to Republican motives here, because it sure appears that they are obsessed with attacking anything that has been successful at bringing new business and investment to Michigan.

Now why in the world would they want to do that?