Taxpayer-subsidized Hollywood-types duke it out

Taxpayer-subsidized Hollywood-types duke it out

Dawn Keezer, head of the Pittsburgh Film Office, has made it her life’s work to bring movie and TV productions to Greater Pittsburgh. And in pursuit of that goal, she regularly has advocated for tax credits for those producers.

After all, she repeatedly has argued, such credits have helped to create and sustain the proverbial good-paying, family-supporting jobs and offshoot economic multipliers that come with Hollywood productions.

Millions of dollars have flowed into the local economy because of those productions — productions made possible in large part by those credits, she says.

In fact, Keezer often has said the cap should be raised or even perhaps there should be no cap at all on this “proven” moneymaker.

Never mind that, as noted in this space many times, there’s ample scholarly research showing more cents are lost than gained (by far) for each tax dollar “invested” in the film industry.

But that’s an updated column for another day.

Now, there’s a brand-new reason to be skeptical of these film tax credits: By extension, they appear to be underwriting something akin to Third-World slave labor.

At least that’s the implication from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE).

The 150,000-member union is ready to strike, this week, over what it calls low pay and marathon workdays. By golly, it’s a veritable sweat-shop racket, the union appears to be saying. And, in part, at taxpayer expense, no less!

A strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) would halt almost all film and television production nationwide, observers note. Four months of talks have proven fruitless, the union says.

In addition to higher compensation for streaming and weekend projects, the London’s Daily Mail says the “union is also seeking ‘meaningful improvements in rest periods’ and increased wages for crafts that have hourly rates of less than $18 an hour.” 

The producers’ group says it has offered the union a fair deal but that as it seeks to ramp up and recover from downtime caused by the coronavirus pandemic, sacrifices must be made.

We’ve seen no official comments from Dawn Keezer about this obvious injustice against hard-working movie and TV production workers whose bosses suckle at the taxpayer teat and refuse to share such spoils.

Ahem.

And pols, “progressive” Democrats and starry-eyed Republicans alike, should be appalled. It’s more than obvious that new legislation must be enacted to direct that 51 percent of any film tax credit proceeds given must be divvied up among these poor, overworked and often weekend-working production professionals.

Oh, the humanity. Right?

Wrong. For we jest, of course.

This whole dispute is a pox on both houses – on producers who oftentimes sell these tax credits to third parties to turn a quick buck and on unionistas balking at reality (as they usually do).

If the IATSE wants to call a strike against the AMPTP, that’s its business. And if the producers want to concede to the union or play hard ball, that’s their business, too.

But taxpayers have no business having skin in this game, incidental or indirect as it might be. The farce that is the Pennsylvania Film Production Tax Credit must be repealed.

And with that repeal should come an ancillary promise to end other special tax breaks and to devise a tax system that taxes fairly and at the lowest possible rate for all.

That’s what real economic stimulus is all about – not lights, camera and actionably diving into taxpayer pockets.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).