by Donna Martinez
Former Senior Writer and Editor, John Locke Foundation
Sunday is Oscar night, and one of the films nominated for best picture was filmed in Sylva, North Carolina: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” The production received a $3.1 million film grant from the state. As David Menconi of the News & Observer explains, that’s a huge piece of the independent film’s $15 million budget. In short, North Carolina subsidized a big chunk of this movie. Menconi’s piece is worth the read, particularly as states debate how to attract the jobs and prestige that come with film production. The big question, of course, is whether it’s a good idea to subsidize one industry over another. At the John Locke Foundation, we say no. We want a level playing field for all. Our Mitch Kokai discussed the flawed thinking employed by supporters of film incentives to Menconi:
“The argument was that this was a burgeoning industry and incentives were supposed to help it grow,” said Locke senior political analyst Mitch Kokai. “But as soon as that spigot turned off, production moved away. It’s not a sustainable industry that lasts once the incentives go away. The only way to keep them coming back is to keep the incentives flowing.”
Thankfully the General Assembly has reformed the incentive program by turning it into a grant with much more specific and narrow requirements. That’s a positive move, particularly since there is a lot of support for film incentives across the political aisle.
No, our opposition to film incentives doesn’t mean that JLF is opposed to the movie industry. We welcome job creators. We simply don’t believe in bestowing favored tax treatment on favored industries. We want fairness for every industry. That means creating a business-friendly environment in our state via tax reform, cutting back on unnecessary rules, and more. And that’s exactly what the General Assembly has done for several years now. Let’s keep it up. Let’s let other states play favorites. Let’s let North Carolina be known as the state that wants everyone to succeed, no matter the industry, no matter how glamorous or mundane the product or service might be.