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by Nigel M Smith
June 1, 2011 5:01 AM
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As California Extends Filmmaker Tax Credits, Kansas Kills the Arts

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. [Photo courtesy of the United States Senate]

How was your Memorial Day weekend? If you're a California filmmaker, it was swell. And if you're a Kansas artist, it was beyond lousy.

Over the weekend, Kansas became the nation's only state without an arts agency. Meanwhile, California -- a state that has routinely faced budget shortfalls -- granted a five-year extension to its tax credit program for television and film productions.

Here's a rundown of what happened:

In Kansas, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback nixed state funding for arts programs, leaving the Kansas Arts Commission with no budget. In response to the veto, Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, issued a statement over the weekend criticizing the move. "His action not only robs the citizens of his state of access to quality arts programming, but is also a direct affront to his campaign platform to create jobs and rebuild the state’s economy," he wrote. Lynch also pointed out that the nonprofit arts and culture organizations in Kansas currently support 4,612 full-time jobs that generate $95.1 million in household income. It's not clear how many of those jobs can remain with no state budget to support it.
[Hat tip: LA Times' Culture Monster]

Meanwhile, on the west coast:

Over in California, the State Assembly passed a bill to extend their film and television tax credit program for five more years. It was approved by a vote of 72-1 and next moves to the state Senate, where a vote will take place later this summer. The bill would provide an additional $500 million in funding for the incentive program that offers filmmakers a tax credit equivalent to 20%-25% of qualified production expenses. According to the California Film Commission, so far the program has generated 31,000 jobs and $2.2 billion in production spending.
[Hat tip: The Hollywood Reporter]

Southern California Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, who introduced the bill, told a reporter: "With the state's unemployment rate hovering around 12%, we need this incentive to keep hundreds of thousands of Californians employed. Extending the incentive program will prevent production companies from moving their projects, jobs and spending out of California."

One small note of optimism: Kansas does offer a generous (although neither transferable nor refundable) 30% tax credit for filmmakers through the Kansas Film Commission, which is entirely separate from the (now-nonexistent) Kansas Arts Commission.

[Brian Brooks and Dana Harris contributed to this article]

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6 Comments

  • Crystal | June 4, 2011 4:59 AMReply

    @Chris Wow, you are confused about economics, in general, and non-profit economics, in particular. Nonprofits represent $1.1 trillion in annual US economic spending, the third-largest portion of the economy after the wholesale and the retail trades.

    Kansas government doesn't "transfer" $95M into households. Non-profit grants seed economic activity, often making the difference between a job existing and not-existing.

    And it ripples outward: People who go to the theater park the car in a lot, which might have an attendant, or park at a meter; grab a bit to eat at a nearby restaurant, which has cooks, servers, and more; hire a babysitter; etc., etc., etc. Those nickels and dimes add up.

    Rather than spew uninformed ignorance, you ought to do some research. It isn't Robert Lynch who doesn't have the slightest idea what he's talking about, pal.

  • Dana Harris | June 2, 2011 6:21 AMReply

    @Chris: As I said, I don't have access to the Kansas budget. And I take your point re: food stamps v. the arts. However, no one believes that the state government was devoting millions, or even a million, to the arts. And it's a lot easier to tear down a program than to build one. Much as when California said it couldn't afford tax credits for filmmakers -- which they did for years, until it became apparent that they were losing their business base -- I think it's a short-sighted decision for Kansas.

  • Chris | June 2, 2011 2:06 AMReply

    @Dana How exactly do NON-PROFIT art and culture organizations "generate" $95.1 million in income, if not given directly to the organizations by government? Where is the $95.1 million coming from, museum admission fees?

    @logigrol: You're right, I don't live in Kansas, but I don't need to. In a depressed economy, the arts aren't high on the financial priorities list, nor should they be. You actually included "food, water, air" as necessary for a "balanced life." Those are necessary for LIFE, my friend. People can live without art. They can't live without water or air. Would you prefer Kanses cut the food stamp program so they can pump some more money into the arts?

    If it's all about his personal ambitions and not the will of the people, so be it. I don't know the people of Kansas. If the arts are really so important to them that they demand they be taxpayer-funded, and Brownback opposes it, they can always vote him out. That's how our democratic republic works.

  • logigrol | June 2, 2011 1:10 AMReply

    @Chris: With all due respect my friend, I can tell from your comments that you probably don't live in the Sunflower state (KS). Conservative is one thing. Controlling and backward is another. Kansas is "another." My first problem with your post is that you call funding for the arts "unecessary spending." Says who? Art is life. For a balanced, productive, fullfulling life everyone needs art, just as much as math, science, recreation, spirituality, connectivity with other humans, food, water, air... Sam Brownback (our unestemed governor) is trying to endear his uber-conservative base in preparation for a run at the Presidency, plain and simple. The KS state legislature had already APPROVED continued funding for the Arts Council, a move that even some conservative lawmakers thought represented the will of the people. Sam took exception to that and used his line veto to kill the agency. He was not acting in the best interests of the people of Kansas, plain and simple. It was all about his ambitions.

  • Dana Harris | June 1, 2011 9:33 AMReply

    I don't claim to know the fine details of Kansas' accounting, but according to the piece:

    As a result of the governor's action, Kansas will also forfeit a likely matching grant of nearly $800,000 from the NEA next year, plus more than $400,000 from the Mid-America Arts Alliance. Those combined funds are nearly double the arts appropriation that had been recommended by the Kansas Legislature, which Brownback nixed.

    If the matching $1.2M is "nearly double" the amount that Brownback killed... let's say that's $700K. If $700K generates $95.1M in income, that's not a case of transferring money from the government to the people. That would represent a significant return on investment, not to mention 4,612 jobs.

  • Chris | June 1, 2011 9:04 AMReply

    This article is interesting. It's trying to frame California and Kansas as being opposites of sorts, when really they're the same ... they're both just trying to help save their economies.

    California's doing it by extending tax breaks to productions so they won't leave the state--a very rare case of California politicians acknowledging that tax incentives can actually help the economy.

    Kansas is doing it by cutting unnecessary spending. The claim that those jobs "generate $95.1 million in household income" is false. They don't generate that income, they simply get it transferred to them by government ... from taxpayers to those who benefit from the state-funded program. Robert Lynch doesn't have the slightest idea of what he's talking about.