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Commentary

It was the best thing the bumbling Granholm administration ever did

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There’s an old joke that some politicians look at a program and say, “Well, I don’t care that it actually works in reality. I need to know if it fits my ideology.”

Unfortunately, that’s no longer a joke. People like that are largely in control of both houses of the legislature, and yesterday, each house did something monumentally stupid.

Republicans have long hated the film tax credit, which was, in my view, probably the best thing the bumbling Granholm administration ever did. For a few years, Michigan was an exciting place to be, as Hollywood stars and directors poured in to make movies. It may have cost the state a small amount of money, though I’m not even sure that was true.

I am convinced that over time, it would have been a huge economic plus. Culturally, it was already worth whatever the tax credits cost; people need not only bread, but roses.

Conservatives, however, see the film industry as a den of liberals who give large sums to left-wing causes. When Governor Rick Snyder was elected, he said he wanted to kill the film tax credit; when I asked, he told me he was against special deals for any particular industry.

Former Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, who did understand the potential here, managed to preserve some funding, but a friend of mine who supplied props to the industry said Hollywood would never trust Michigan again, after the politicians made promises and then pulled the rug out from under them.

When the term-limited Richardville left office at the end of last year, it was pretty clear the remaining tax credits were doomed. Yesterday, however, in what looked like an astonishing bit of spite, the state senate moved to eliminate the Michigan Film Office itself.

The film office, which costs less than a million dollars a year, has been around since the 1970s, long before the tax incentive program. It existed to try to attract films, and as Film Office Commissioner Jenell Leonard said, to “foster growth for the state’s creative industries.”

But Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, a man not known for support of the arts, said the state no longer needs to fund a separate film office.

Meanwhile, over in the House chamber, Republicans are getting ready to pass a bill that they say will provide $1.2 billion in new funding for the roads. Isn’t that wonderful? Yes, till you actually look at the bill. More than half of this is imaginary money, based on hopes for sales tax revenues and economic growth in the future.

They plan to get most of the rest in ways that are harmful to the economy and society, and which make no sense.

For example, they will sock hybrid and electric vehicles with new fees. But when Democrats suggested raising fees on the heavy trucks that are pounding our roads to gravel, Republicans refused, even though Michigan allows heavier truck weights than any other state.

They plan to get some money for the roads by eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit, raising taxes on the poorest of the working poor. Michigan is still a nice place to visit. But our government seems to be working hard to assure that fewer and fewer people will want to live here.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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