Wednesday, April 16, 2008

On Film Incentives and Death Sentences

Two unexpected and unrelated pieces of news have come in this week that could--and should--generate attention in Montana politics, both in the race for governor and in legislative races.

First, Missoula played host this week to John Villarino, who supervises the construction of sets for Hollywood movies by the likes of Steven Spielberg. While Villarino didn't come to Missoula specifically to talk movies (he came to share his collection of Rembrandt etchings) I spent some time with him discussing Montana's efforts to get back in the movie game.

Three years ago, Gov. Brian Schweitzer and the legislature created the "Big Sky on the Big Screen Act" which gave movie companies tax rebates of up to 12% on up to $1 million in in-state expenditures. Last year, the legislature increased the top rebate to 14% (on labor costs) and removed the expense ceiling. In the months that followed, the state announced that a couple of smaller features would film in the state. Good news, right?

It turns out Montana's incentives pale in comparison to what other states are doing. Villarino specifically mentioned Michigan, which just last week announced an expansion of its tax rebate program for the film industry. Now, Michigan will rebate 40% of taxes levied on movie companies. Villarino told me (and Michigan media reports confirm) that Hollywood interest in that state has increased multi-fold. New Orleans also has eased the tax burden on movie-makers, to its benefit.

Villarino says Hollywood "can shoot anything" in Montana and bring considerable economic activity to the state each time it does. But Montana politicians may have to open the door a lot wider.


Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld lethal injection as a Constitutional form of capital punishment, will the death penalty become a larger issue in the 2008 Montana elections? Last year, the state Senate passed a bill abolishing the death penalty, only to see it fail in a House committee.

Among the Senators who voted for the bill--Republican Roy Brown, currently hoping to oust Schweitzer from the governor's office in November. Brown said at the time that his opposition to abortion led him to oppose the death penalty as well. His campaign website describes him as "a very pro-life Catholic who believes in cherishing life at all costs." Meanwhile, his primary opponent, Larry Steele of Great Falls, favored the death penalty when he ran for the legislature two years ago.

On the Democratic Party side, Schweitzer favors the death penalty ("strongly favors", according to one political issues site) while one of his two primary challengers, Helena school teacher Don Pogreba, had made abolition of the death penalty a priority even before the Supremes issued their opinion.

Elsewhere, Libertarian Stan Jones says capital punishment is OK, which means that, barring a huge primary upset, Brown will be the only opponent of capital punishment in the governor's race in the fall.

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