published Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Stop handouts to 'Nashville'

"Nashville," the ABC television show featuring Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere as adversarial county music singers, has provided Nashville, the city, with a healthy bump of notoriety. It goes without saying, however, that the drama hasn't done much to put Chattanooga -- or the rest of the Volunteer State -- at the forefront of viewers' minds.

Still, despite getting no economic or tourism benefit as a result of the primetime soap opera, state officials are forcing Chattanooga-area Tennessee residents to pick up part of the tab for the cost of making the show.

In June, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development announced that it was bribing the rich companies that produce "Nashville" -- Lionsgate, ABC Studios and Gaylord Entertainment -- with $7.5 million of state taxpayers' money in exchange for filming parts of the show in Music City.

The $7.5-million payoff was given as a reimbursable grant intended to pay for the production's expenses related to filming in the state -- including everything from location scouting and film crews to the gourmet spread at the craft services table. (Yes, state taxpayers are paying for millionaire actors to graze on lavish veggie trays.)

That hefty handout will just be the beginning if the millionaire welfare recipients behind the show have their way.

Earlier this month, ABC announced it was picking up "Nashville" for a full season, which means filming an additional nine episodes over the coming months. The show's producer, Loucas George, used that bit of good news as an opportunity to stick out his hand like a bum on the street and beg for even more money from hard-working Tennesseans to help subsidize his catty TV show.

Currently, the state forces taxpayers to cover up to 32 percent of the cost of filming the show. Tennessee lawmakers recently capped film and television production incentives -- including grants and tax credits -- to 25 percent of in-state filming costs. George wants "Nashville" to continue receiving the old 32 percent rate. If that happens, and the show finishes its current season as planned and is picked up for a second full season, state taxpayers will shell out $17.9 million in subsidies to the show over the next two years -- and the spending may not end there.

George and the production companies are now holding Gov. Bill Haslam and economic development commissioner Bill Hagerty hostage, insinuating that unless the state gives the show even larger handouts, they'll pack up and film the show elsewhere, according to the Nashville Business Journal.

That would be the best thing that could happen for folks here in Chattanooga and in other areas of the state that don't receive any particular benefit from shelling out our money to have a show filmed in Nashville.

Unfortunately, if recent comments by the state's economic development commissioner, Bill Hagerty, are any indication, Tennessee's taxpayers should prepare to hold on to their wallets. Hagerty seems to have taken George's bait hook, line and sinker, admitting more incentives are possible and saying, "I think [the show has] had a very positive impact on the state."

Apparently it hasn't dawned on Hagerty that, since the name of the show is "Nashville" and it is set in the city, it'll serve to promote Music City even if they film it in Uganda. As a result, there's no need to be bullied into throwing Tennesseans' tax dollars at George and the rest of the investors behind the show.

If Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and other Music City officials want to use Davidson County taxpayers' money to bribe the rich folks behind "Nashville" to film the show there, fine. But when state officials use state tax money taken from people who don't get any benefit from the show, it's offensive, irresponsible and outrageous.

Haslam, Hagerty and the rest of Tennessee's government leaders should yell "cut" on the state's corporate welfare handouts to "Nashville." Even without bribing the producers with millions of Tennesseans' hard-earned dollars, the show will go on.

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Actually it's well-known that people like to visit places featured in shows even more when there's an authentic connection.

But tell you what, why don't you calculate the actual tax contributions before you start getting upset? Or will it be like when you complained about federal funding going to California while ignoring the hundreds of billions Californians contribute to federal revenues??

November 29, 2012 at 12:44 a.m.
aae1049 said...

When citizens pay mandatory state and local taxes, they have an expectation that the funds will go to education, social services, infrastructure, and emergency services, commonly refereed to as essential services. Working class taxpayers expect taxes being forced from them to go to chartered services, not speculative investment.

Our local government lost $13 million in speculative high risk bond investments, with local tax dollars.

The government should not be dabbling in business and economic pursuits playing high risk investment with other people's money, in an economic puppeteer and speculative taxpayer investment in a television show.

The State and local governments incentive method operates on a first come first serve basis, not on measure of whether this particular business of pursuit is a good investment. This film deal is the essence of corporate welfare that cheats working class citizens.

A $7.5 million dollar taxpayer investment in a television show, will never return to the taxpayers.

The gov film corporate welfare is just a 25% of their expense. I am sure Hollywood would be honest about their expenses, yeah.

Stupid State Legislature passed this. http://www.tn.gov/film/PDF/Incentives/20120605FilmIncentivesBill.pdf

November 29, 2012 at 6:44 a.m.
gjuster said...

I find it interesting that the elite/rich Hollywood types have been calling for increasing taxes on the wealthy ($250,000 is not wealthy) yet insist on taking hard earned taxpayer money in order to come to Nashville. And the tax breaks that they get from California and the Federal government are huge. This is corporate welfare - worse than any of the energy companies. Once again the hypocrisy is amazing. Tax everyone more - but give us tax breaks for making movies.

November 29, 2012 at 7:52 a.m.

You must be unfamiliar with the gap between those "elite Hollywood types" and the people who run the production companies.

There's a reason why the phrase "Hollywood accounting" exists, and it's not because of the actors or celebrities, or even the directors and writers.

November 29, 2012 at 9:58 a.m.
aae1049 said...

Happy, You must be unfamiliar with common sense.

There is nothing that can justify giving $7 million in tax dollars to a private TV production, it is wrong and is robbery of public education, infrastructure, and essential services.

We have schools that are in deplorable shape, giving our taxes to corporate welfare and absurd TV shows, instead of public services is the action of elected and appointed morons that should NOT be charged with public resources.

If you think this is OK, then you are the worst Dem or Liberal EVER.

November 29, 2012 at 11:20 a.m.
junepop55 said...

Drew - thanks for keeping your watch of our tax dollars on a local level. Some of your editorials featuring federal fiascoes in other parts of the country, while indeed they use our tax dollars, aren't as pertinent as local boondoggles.

For instance, every time I drive by the city's new fitness complex, I get steamed. I pay for my own gym membership, why should I pay for some city employees? Write about that one, please. And if anyone gives you the argument it will save tax dollars in the long run by lowering health insurance premiums, please. . . Just implement market forces and base health insurance premiums on body mass index and smoking habits. That will ultimately lower insurance premiums.

November 29, 2012 at 2:34 p.m.

aae1049, you can certainly make the argument that the grants aren't worthwhile, but besides pointing out that people do care for authenticity in their tourism decisions, my main problem was with the claim that somehow the money is directly coming out of the pockets of others, when no effort was made to demonstrate that was necessarily the case.

Since I've seen that be provably false in prior editorials, I don't think that's too much to ask. You seem to think I'm advocating for it, when I'm actually asking for the writer to show some veracity.

If you can demonstrate that is the case, go ahead. Let's see your math.

I also replied to gjuster's remark regarding "Hollywood elites" by pointing out that the groups are distinct. The people responsible for the tax rebates are not the same celebrities who gjuster was complaining about.

But do go ahead and make the argument that such corporate welfare is not productive, just remember, I'm not advocating any such thing, and do take care to not attribute it to me.

Take it on its own terms, and show that the claims of the advocates for them are wrong, that such tax policies do not have a positive effect.

But me? I don't pretend that the money would actually go to schools or infrastructure if the power-brokers you support had their way, so why would I buy your feigned concerns?

November 29, 2012 at 5 p.m.
aae1049 said...

happy,

You state, "I don't pretend that the money would actually go to schools or infrastructure if the power-brokers you support had their way,"

You are so wrong. I am the anti power broker.

November 29, 2012 at 7:06 p.m.

You claim to be.

Why would I doubt your claims...

November 29, 2012 at 10:43 p.m.
Oldhickory said...

Since the editor of the Chattanooga Free Press is strongly against government waste, I believe he must be in support of removing mandates in state law that require state and local governments to spend scarce tax dollars on public notices in newspapers across Tennessee. Newspaper advertisements require the citizen to purchase a newspaper day after day on the offhand chance that a notice of interest to them might exist in the paper. Consequently, it must make perfectly clear sense to the editor that online notices reach a far greater audience with much greater ease of access. Oh that’s right. The Tennessee Press Association was against saving scarce tax dollars when HB 1309 was introduced in 2012. http://www.tnpress.com/publicnoticeweek.html

November 30, 2012 at 8:35 a.m.
honestcritic said...

So how much did the state "force" us to pay for Volkswagon to land in Chattanooga?

Wake up. The government gives incentives to virtually every industry. Until the incentive game ends - you either play ball or go home.

November 30, 2012 at 1:07 p.m.
wheresthebeef said...

Following up on honestcritic's comments. How much did the "government" spend of our bucks to bring in VW. Great Idea! How much of the rest of the state did that help? probably not much. Don't see everyone locally crying over that one. The show's production does bring in around 10 times the production costs to a local area, for hotels, equipment, food, labor, etc. May not help the rest of the state directly, but it will put other money in the state tax coffers.

November 30, 2012 at 2:01 p.m.
pkurland said...

Sadly, the author of this editorial seems totally unaware of the impact that the film production incentives have on Chattanooga. First, 'Nashville' draws a huge crew from all across Tennessee including quite a few of the skilled craftspeople and artists from Chattanooga. Many of these people make their livings in the motion picture industry. Some are new to it, having gained experience from employment in a variety of crafts on the movie '42' shooting in Chattanooga this last summer. That show employed hundreds of Tennesseans, many from Chattanooga, but others from across the state as well, filling the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel and several others. That show also bought food, set materials and equipment from the area and did business with many local and state vendors, just as 'Nashville" does. Taxpayer money from Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville and the rest of the state was used to attract '42', just as it has 'Nashville'. We all share that responsibility, and we all reap the benefits, regardless of the specific location in the state. Just speaking of the technical and crafts end of the 'Nashville' production employment, I can say hundreds of Tennesseans from across the state have been given regular employment, with a Tennessee partial payroll in the many millions of dollars. These jobs come with excellent health insurance and other benefits. The savings to the state just by giving these people healthcare may justify the incentive. Tennessee has another shot at keeping an industry which has been very good for us. Let's not bite the hand that feeds us, even if we've given in return. Peter Kurland IATSE Local 492 Studio Mechanics of Tennessee and Northern Mississippi.

December 7, 2012 at 7:20 a.m.
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