” In 2012, the people of North Carolina paid Marvel Studios $20 million to shoot Robert Downey Jr.’s latest comic-book sequel, “Iron Man 3,” in their state. It was just one of many movies and television shows taxpayers subsidized in North Carolina that year. Among them were season 8 of“The Bachelorette” and Jennifer Aniston’s “We’re the Millers” — a film that The Fresno Bee said “aims for mediocrity and hits it with a dull thud.”
Subsidies like these for the entertainment industry exist all over the country, in Florida and Michigan and Ohio. Georgia taxpayers in 2012 funded “Tyler Perry’s Aunt Bam’s Place,” “Tyler Perry’s I Don’t Want to Do Wrong” and the latest Vince Vaughn–Luke Wilson buddy flick, “The Internship.”
With so much public money going toward these ventures, it’s reasonable to question whether they bring the public any actual benefit — and there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. In 2010 in Michigan, the state Senate authored a report on film industry incentives and found that, in one year, the state had spent $100 million to create only $60 million in economic activity. Of the spending stimulated — by the production of such gems as “A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas”— the report found that almost half occurred out of state. Such doubts were compounded by a November report from the office of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which could not find “sufficient justification for the size of the film credits.” The amount of public money spent on a production company, it said, was the equivalent of paying a factory 40 times what it owed in taxes.
The film industry, now under scrutiny for engaging in these practices, is just one example of a much larger problem. Tax credits for businesses, in theory, are meant to be a means of using public money to stimulate private-sector growth and create jobs. Yet many subsidies don’t pay off in the form of public benefits, and few come with any measures for accountability, preventing the public from ever knowing if it’s getting its money’s worth. Walmart, for instance, has used “more than $1.2 billion in tax breaks, free land, infrastructure assistance, low-cost financing and outright grants from state and local governments around the country,” according to Good Jobs First’s Wal-Mart Subsidy Watch website. Sports franchises frequently approach cities and suburban regions with proposals for new stadiums funded by public dollars, touting them as job creators.”