Monday, January 25, 2010

Moral Courage Barometer: This Week's Award Goes to Rep. Dennis Kintigh

Last week we gave the Moral Courage Award to Sen. Eric Griego for asking UNM to cut positions in the upper administration, which multiplied like rabbits the last few years, as well as the outlandish salaries some of them are making in the midst of the worst fiscal crisis in the state's history.

This week we give the award to Rep. Dennis Kintigh, for introducing a bill to cut the subsidy to film makers in the state. Here's why he deserves it.

Last year New Mexico taxpayers ended up giving the Hollywood film industry (not exactly in the poorhouse) $82 million in return for an estimated 11.9 million that they got back, for a net loss $70 million, rounded out. In 2008 two NMSU economists published a study for the Legislative Finance Committee, estimating that the return on each dollar invested by taxpayers to the film industry was about fourteen cents. Question: in a year in which the budget shortfall is $500 million, do we really need to dish out this type of money to out of state firms? You be the judge.

The New Mexico film office, desperate to protect one of the governor's sacred cows, hastily hired a counter-study done, by Ernst and Young, suggesting that the return was more like $1.50 per dollar spent. Then liberal and conservative think tanks in New Mexico, Voices for Children and the Rio Grande Foundation, respectively, each came out ridiculing the Ernst and Young report among other reasons for including the salaries of the movie stars and producers in their calculations, wildly inflating the rate of return to New Mexico. The Legislative Finance Committee similarly shot holes in the Ernst and Young study. For a humorous account of the Ernst and Young exaggerations written by Jim Scarantino click here.

Kintigh has now introduced a bill to end the subsidy. The governor has promised to veto any effort to reduce the subsidy or eliminate it. Kintigh admits he doesn't think his bill has a chance to pass. The governor has threatened to veto a bill to kill it (why might he do this?), and our legislators, for the most part, wouldn't dare stand up to him. But Kintigh still thinks legislators should debate the bill and be held accountable to the public as well as to the governor for their vote.

Kintigh is right. The public has a right to know, when they are asked to cut needed government services (see my posting on January 8) just how their legislators voted when it comes to a $70 million net giveaway to the film industry. Pass or fail, I'd like to know just how my legislators voted on this bill, and their reasons for doing so. If the bill passes, make the governor veto it, and discredit himself even more than he has up to now. If it fails to pass, voters have a right to know how their legislators voted.

This, however, is not how it is likely to be. The bill will likely disappear into the happy hunting ground of bills without a vote, and legislators will wring their hands about it in public having done nothing to prevent another giveaway to Hollywood while denying Mesquite New Mexico the resources it needs to provide serious fire protection and EMS, and a thousand similar examples spread throughout the state.

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