The House and Senate have adopted the conference report to expand Mississippi’s film incentives program despite evidence that the program loses taxpayers money. It is on its way to Gov. Phil Bryant.
Those concerns were largely swept aside by proponents who either argued that the report from PEER was incomplete, inaccurate, or that there are other benefits that we can’t necessarily measure.
The 2015 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.
But Senate Bill 2603, which passed with few dissenting votes, will bring back the non-resident payroll portion of the incentives program. This allows for a 25 percent rebate on payroll paid to cast and crew members who are not Mississippi residents. It expired in 2017 and the Senate had refused to consider it. Until this year. Though the companies now have to be Mississippi-based production companies.
Two other incentive programs remained on the books. One is the Mississippi Investment Rebate, which offers a 25 percent rebate on purchases from state vendors and companies. The other is the Resident Payroll Rebate, which offers a 30 percent cash rebate on payroll paid to resident cast and crew members.
For those who question the PEER report, they are missing one key data point. All the studies on film incentives, and the body of research is significant, have painted a similar picture. We are not sitting on an island with some crazy, unsubstantiated report. As the PEER report outlined, no one is receiving more than 50 cents on every dollar put in the program.
This is why many of those states have scaled back or eliminated their programs. In 2009, all but six states offered some type of incentives for movie producers. As of 2018, just 31 states still have programs on the books. So, while other states are cutting back, Mississippi lawmakers appear interested in pressing forward.
And there is another point to be considered. Do we want Hollywood to think they control our state? That is certainly the emerging situation in Georgia, a state that has a massive film incentives program. Consider this recent tweet from actress Alyssa Milano:
Just last week, Gov. Phil Bryant signed a heartbeat bill into law. Or this commentary from director Rob Reiner concerning North Carolina’s bathroom bill a number of years ago:
When you incentive Hollywood to come to your state, they believe they can and should set policy for your state. If you dare to disagree with their value system, the script they follow is to economically boycott the hand that feeds them. We’ve seen this movie before. It’s not worth the price of admission.