Imagine you are in line at your favorite downtown store one beautiful Charleston afternoon later this year. Standing in front of you is Cam Gigandet, with an armload of the store’s finest items. Everyone in the store does their best not to be “that guy,” so they let the star of the hit new Holy City-based series Reckless go about his business. After the cashier rings up his purchases, Gigandet turns to the cashier and says, “Wonderful. I am going to pay about 70 percent of that total, and you, your fellow employees, and the people in line behind me can pick up the rest of the tab.”
Of course, this scenario probably will not happen — come on, do you think Mr. Gigandet actually shops with the rest of us? — but this is essentially the deal that the state of South Carolina handed us with the recently passed Film Rebate Bill. The new law is a raw deal for almost everyone involved, except, of course, those privileged few who benefit the most from the largesse and, most likely, those who could most afford to pay taxes in the first place. The new film incentives include a 20 percent tax rebate on wages — 25 percent if the worker is a resident of South Carolina — and a 30 percent rebate on purchases from state vendors.
The news comes at the same time as CBS’ announcement that they had picked up Reckless for the fall season, which shot its pilot here in Charleston just a few months ago. The S.C. Radio Network reported that state Sen. Paul Campbell of Goose Creek “had been told producers were looking to film the series in Savannah if the law had not passed.” If that sounds like extortion to you, well, it is.
Proponents of the Film Rebate Bill and other incentives talk about “competing” with other states, or even other countries, for the attention and love of corporations. Today, South Carolina finds itself in a film incentive arms race along with North Carolina, Georgia, and Los Angeles, and at some point, there will be nothing left for our state to give. When that happens, we will be abandoned for some other state offering even better incentives.
On the one hand, having a television show come to the area is good news. Certainly, a good number of people will benefit from finding work as extras or crew. Or at least that’s how it has worked out in California. In 2011 the Los Angeles Times reported on a study touting the benefits of California’s rebate incentives — $3.8 billion in revenue and 20,000 film and television jobs (ostensibly from productions that would otherwise have left the state). While that is all well and good, it’s worth noting that the study in question was commissioned by the Motion Picture Association of America.
Back on the East Coast, South Carolina is once again signaling to its citizens that what matters most is that the people who can most afford to pay taxes are the ones who will not pay taxes. Tax rebates like the Film Rebate Bill — and the generous incentive package recently offered to Boeing — are a sure sign that our state government is content to increase the flow of money up to the wealthiest of corporations and people instead to the lowly masses.
That any company, and especially those who dare to call themselves “American,” would essentially extort bigger and better deals out of our cities, states, and the nation itself, is obscene. That our governments not only give into the extortion, but also insist that we gleefully accept the terms given to us, is a complete failure of public policy.
The continued arms race of lowering taxes to serve the wealthy needs to end, and it needs to end before we are paying corporations for the “privilege” of working for them.
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