Film incentive ROI: Either atrocious or just bad

By Aaron Rice
November 5, 2019

Mississippi, like many other states, has a history of dolling out tax incentives to bring Hollywood film producers to the state. And, like many other states, the net return is generally an awful investment for taxpayers.

When lawmakers were engaged in an ultimately successful effort to revive dead film incentives this past session, the few opponents that could be found in the legislature would often cite a 2015 PEER report on the program in Mississippi. 

The report was mocked as being incomplete or inaccurate, or we were told of the other benefits that we couldn’t necessarily measure. Of course, proponents of film incentives didn't like what the program showed. 

The report from PEER shows taxpayers receive just 49 cents for every dollar invested in the program. That means that for every dollar the state gives to production companies, we see just 49 cents in return for the general fund.

Perhaps, this was a mistake. 

Maybe it was. Because, if anything, the PEER report was too favorable to Mississippi’s film incentive program. A 2017 study published by the Journal of Economic Geography by economists Mark F. Owens of Penn State University and Adam D. Rennhoff of Middle Tennessee State University looked at the impact of film incentives.

Via: John Locke Foundation

It found that Mississippi managed to return an abysmal 14 cents for every dollar of tax credit for film incentives. So, a third of what the PEER report found. 

But much like the PEER report, we again see that there are no instances where film incentives are actually a net positive for any state. It’s not that Mississippi is doing something uniquely wrong. It’s that film incentives are a bad deal for everyone. 

The question isn’t if we are losing money on film incentives, but how much. Because whether it’s 86 cents or “just” 51 cents, taxpayers should not be on the hook to subsidize Hollywood. 


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