The Walking Dead would look pretty good walking through Arizona, don't you think? Apocalyptic xeric landscapes just lend themselves to heartwarming tales of love, redemption, friendship, pretty ponies, and zombies. But, for eight seasons, TWD has been shambling, not through the blasted splatter-realms of Grand Canyon and Sonora, but the green fields of Georgia--one of only two states awarded five stars as "best tax incentive jurisdictions" by Film Production Capital. Arizona gets no stars--I don't care how many you can count on a clear desert night. It tanked its film production incentives at the first hint of recession. Since then, no TWD, no Breaking Bad, and no King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, dammit (see my previous post on the subject).
Now, I get it. Georgia is a deep blue sea of liberal tax-and-bend-over shiftlessness, a regulation-laden swamp of bureaucratic red tape and bottomless spending that makes New Jersey look like the Benedictine Sanctuary of fiscal restraint.
Except, it's not. In fact, in Area Development's Top States for Doing Business, Georgia has been No. 1 for three years in a row. Yes, Georgia, now considered to be a reliably red state, provides a 20% base transferable tax credit, but boasts of "incentives...up to 30% of your Georgia production expenditures." Gov. Nathan Deal, Republican, wants you to know that Georgia is now the No. 1 filming location in the world, hosting 320 film and television productions and generating $9.5 billion in economic impact in fiscal 2017 alone.
Our own governor, Doug Ducey, is no slouch when it comes to the old nip-and-tuck. He's known for overseeing "lean budgets," says the Cato Institute--a conservative think tank that likes its fiscal policy straight up, no chaser and no tax credits. Cato gave Ducey an "A" and a TEACHER'S SPECIAL AWARD sticker. Deal got a "D," and no sticker.
Now...to paraphrase David Kall in Business Advocate, states with the "best tax systems," as judged by Cato and centers like the Tax Foundation, are the most competitive at attracting new businesses. But what to make of Georgia's No. 1 standing according to Area Development? An outlier? Then take a look at Forbes' Best States for Taxes, 2016 edition. Neither Georgia or Arizona crack the Top 10, but Georgia, at No. 16, does edge out our fair state, at No. 17. Regardless of how lean and Victoria Beckham-like Arizona appears from a distance, the two states share almost the same state and local tax burden.
So, I'm picking on Arizona. Ducey is fighting the good fight. He's getting there. One more slashed tax credit and he'll be nipping at the heels of Forbes' No. 1, Wyoming. (Which, to this day, offers a modest tax rebate for mostly in-state productions.)
But to what end? Is eliminating film incentives good for business?
Take another look at the Forbes list and, counting up from Arizona, twelve of the top 17 states, ranked by "least" tax burden, offer a tax credit, rebate, or grant. As ranked by the Cato Institute, five of the top 10 states offer film production incentives. The Tax Foundation? Their Top 10 list also includes five states with generous film and television tax incentives. Let me emphasize: these are states with the lowest tax burdens in the country--the states where, if you give them an Almond Joy, they might actually give you back a Mounds.
Let me turn the question around. Are production incentives good for business?
Ask Georgia, except you'll have to wait until they finish counting up to 9.5 billion. Ask the top 15 States for Doing Business according to Area Development. Twelve of them have deemed it fitting and proper to offer tax incentives for film, television, and other media projects (see the map above, courtesy of the Hollywood Reporter). Finally, ask New Mexico, which also made the Cato Institute's Top 10 list. It's where they filmed Breaking Bad and will soon host the feature film "Arizona." Yes. A movie called Arizona is being shot 350 miles away in a state with an out-of-control meth problem and no saguaros.
That's pretty sorry, but as John Wayne said in Rio Bravo, "Sorry don't get it done."