I’d like to think I know a little bit about the state’s still fairly new film and television production tax credits.
Stamford’s the home of the Connecticut Film Center, whose founder, Kevin Segalla, helped lawmakers mastermind the legislation three years ago; the tax credits have drawn several high-profile films to lower Fairfield County, including some critical hits and some big flops (“Righteous Kill” anyone?); and the credits have also recently lured digital animator Blue Sky Studios to Greenwich and raucous talk show host Jerry Springer to Stamford.
Needless to say myself and my colleagues at The Advocate have written A LOT about the credits and their pros/cons. And so have other reporters.
That’s why I was a bit puzzled by the sudden interest yesterday in the fact that Stamford-based World Wrestling Entertainment has so far collected $3 million worth of tax credits and stands to receive around $5 million more from the state film office.
It’s been no secret that WWE, along with other companies based in Connecticut prior to the creation of the tax credits, has benefited. That’s been one of the major complaints of Connecticut Voices for Children, which for a couple of legislative sessions has urged lawmakers to take a closer look at whether Connecticut truly gets a bang for the buck out of the tax credits.
The argument is the credits were created to attract NEW businesses, while others counter they are also needed to maintain existing companies like WWE.
There has been renewed interest in WWE’s participation because company founder Linda McMahon in her bid to secure the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2010 has been railing against government “bailouts.”
Fair enough. Question her about the film and television tax credits. Heck, challenge her to return the cash.
BUT here’s why yesterday’s criticism of McMahon and WWE, using film and television critic lingo, jumped the shark.
First Colleen Flanagan, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party, issued a press release that read: “Connecticut voters may find it interesting that Linda McMahon – in the midst of a state budget crisis, when core government services are being slashed and taxes are being raised – took a $3 million taxpayer-funded bailout just weeks before pledging to spend $30 million to run for U.S. Senate in Connecticut.”
Flanagan’s statement begs the question is this whole film tax credit program really such a good idea? These are, as she noted, tough times when the state needs as much revenue as possible to maintain core services.
But if Flanagan and state Democratic Party officials find the program flawed, they have no one to blame but their own party.
Former House Speaker Jim Amann, D-Milford, spearheaded the film and television tax credit formula that allows existing companies to benefit and continues to take credit for it as he seeks his party’s nomination to run for governor in 2010.
And when the General Assembly considered earlier this year placing tighter restrictions on the credits, it was the Democratic-majority who sided with industry insiders and decided to oppose Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s idea of capping the total amount of credits issued annually by the film office.
(Ironically WWE is, according to the state film office, one of the very few recipients actually using the credits rather than transferring them to other taxpayers. Connecticut Voices for Children has been lobbying to make the credits non-transferable.)
Now let’s examine what former U.S. Congressman Rob Simmons, who is vying with McMahon for the GOP Senate nomination, had to say yesterday when he learned of WWE’s tax credit windfall.
“This Halloween, Mrs. McMahon may be masquerading as an opponent of government bailouts and stimulus packages for everyone else, but she is happy to take taxpayer dollars for her own personal benefit,” said Simmons’ spokesman Jim Barnett. “Rob Simmons supports tax incentives for small businesses and entreprenuers to grow and thrive, but it is troubling that Linda McMahon … is asking economically-strapped taxpayers to provide her with her own personal stimulus package to produce adult-oriented entertainment that some find objectionable.”
Slippery slope alert! Remember “Righteous Kill,” the Al Pacino/Robert DeNiro/50-Cent cop thriller I mentioned above? That production, according to the state film office, qualified for over $12.5 million in film tax credits.
It was also rated “R” for “violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and brief drug use.”
Should “Righteous Kill” have been denied those tax credits, Rob? For that matter, should the state have denied Jerry Springer the credits? Some people find his talk show objectionable.
Heck, according to the state film office a company called “Six Wives, LLC” earned about $2 million in film and television tax credits. You might want to check that out too, Rob. Sounds a bit adult-oriented.
And I wonder if Simmons knows the legislature’s Republican Minority decried efforts during this year’s budget battle to impose higher taxes on businesses, including doing away with tax credits.
The final kicker here is that, until a few months ago, Simmons was the official Connecticut Business Advocate. If he had any qualms about the film and television tax credits, that was the time to speak up.
Connecticut Voices for Children and others have raised valid questions about the state’s film tax credits and similar programs nationwide, and there have been several opportunities over the course of the past few legislative sessions for critics to voice their opinions and for Connecticut lawmakers to respond.
So I’d rather sit through a marathon viewing of “Righteous Kill” than be subjected to late-to-the-party outrage from politicians and their spokespeople who appear to have just now realized, when it is politically useful, how the film and television tax credits work.
UPDATE: Flanagan just sent out the following response:
“No one is arguing that these tax credits are not valuable tools for the State of Connecticut to attract and keep new business here in the state – that’s not the point. It’s hypocritical of McMahon to say she built the WWE ‘without the help of big government’ when it was millions of taxpayer-funded, government-provided help that put billions back into her own pocket.”
“Furthermore her claims that she’d be a ‘different kind of Senator’ fall on deaf ears when she’s continually talking out of both sides of her mouth.”
“One might wonder why the WWE deserved to get these tax credits to begin with, considering the company was worth billions already and McMahon slashed its workforce by 10 percent earlier this year. That $3 million she accepted on WWE’s behalf could put more than 1,400 cops on our streets – a far more worthy use of taxpayer dollars than funding necrophilia, public sex and steroid-fueled female degradation masquerading as family entertainment or sport.”