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The Download: Director's cut

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Massachusetts is not the only state rethinking its tax lure for films. With a partisan shift in governors’ offices and legislatures around the country, a number of states are reexamining film tax credits that many think do more to enrich Hollywood stars and producers than boost the local economy.

Arizona and Kansas have suspended their movie tax credits while in Iowa, a scandal has led to the firing or forced resignation of the state’s former film bureau chief and five others.  The former film office chief has since been indicted on various misconduct charges and six independent movie producers and credit brokers are being charged with fraudulently obtaining tax credits. Many say Iowa, which has suspended its program, is proof that these programs are vulnerable to misuse and abuse.

“If you don’t have the checks and balances, film programs can get in trouble, and that’s what happened in Iowa,” Peter Dekom, an entertainment industry attorney who helped craft New Mexico’s program, tells the Los Angeles Times.

New Mexico is among those states with a new Republican governor calling for slashing or eliminating the credit programs altogether. Critics say it is hard to justify giving millions in tradeable credits to already wealthy out-of-state film stars and producers while slashing billions in services to local residents.

In New Jersey, the Democratic legislature passed a bill reviving a 20 percent credit for certain film expenses, a program that was suspended last year by newly elected Gov. Chris Christie. A spokesman for Christie told the New York Times the decision “wasn’t hard” given the state’s $10.5 billion deficit. The spokesman would not say if Christie would approve the bill but said any decision would hinge on a review of the program’s effectiveness.

While states such as Florida and North Carolina recently expanded their film tax credits, others such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, and even California are taking a more skeptical look at their programs with new eyes settling in the corner offices. But Hollywood types are threatening that any major changes could force filmmakers to move their productions overseas.

A long-delayed report by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue released 10 days ago showed while film productions generated more than $319 million in new spending, only a third went to in-state businesses and workers.

The debate may already be having an impact. Massachusetts saw its share of productions here decline from 153, including a number of Oscar contenders, in 2008 to 86 in 2009, the lowest number since the credit was enacted. The numbers aren’t in for 2010 yet but there appears to be an even further drop.

Local unions say that is worrisome because they’ve strengthened their numbers since the credits were enacted, meaning there’s less need for production workers to be imported. At IATSE Local 481, which represents a number of technicians and craftspeople in the film industry, the membership has more than doubled from 375 in 2005 to nearly 850 now. Unions say if the credit program is ended or even capped, hundreds more workers will be in the unemployment lines.

But many say the current state of the states leaves everything open to examination, and tax credit programs that cost more than they bring in are the first to come under scrutiny.

“Were we a little too generous with the tax credits?” Randy Richardville, Michigan’s new Senate majority leader, said to the New York Times. “Some might say definitely, some might say probably and some might say maybe. But almost nobody would say no.”

                                                                                                                                                            --JACK SULLIVAN

MUNICIPAL AFFAIRS

Residents attending a public hearing held by a commission considering a proposed pay raise for the Springfield mayor, say, ah...no. In Holyoke, another commission floats a pay increase for their mayor, an increase in the terms served in office from two to four years, and other changes. Meanwhile in Pittsfield, Mayor James Ruberto decides to step down after his current term. He explains his reasons in a letter here.

Homeland Security gives $6.6 million to the Lawrence Fire Department so it can rehire 23 laid-off firefighters and hire 15 new ones, according to a story in the Eagle-Tribune. Staffing at the department had been so low that neighboring towns often had to bail out Lawrence.

Methuen Department of Public Works employees get 5 percent raise over two years but make some concessions, including elimination of the rule that two workers ride in each snowplow truck, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Swampscott’s schools superintendent calls another meeting with parents to discuss alcohol. This time attendance is voluntary, according to a story in the Salem News.

Many communities are already facing deficits for snow removal, the Gloucester Times reports. NECN says Boston has plowed through half of its snow removal budget.

Whole Foods is coming to Jamaica Plain. WBUR reports a mixed reaction in the neighborhood.

Newton Mayor Setti Warren explores ways to close an $8 million budget deficit.

HOUSING

Massachusetts foreclosures in 2010 topped last year's figures, and very nearly eclipsed the record set in 2008.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

A former Evergreen Solar executive tells the Herald Gov. Deval Patrick wanted to strike a deal with the company, and left two deputies to sort out the details. 

Evergreen Solar isn't the only green jobs letdown. The Wall Street Journal reports from Fremont, California, where even the solar plants that aren't shutting down have failed to replace traditional manufacturing jobs. 

Joshua Green rounds up the environmental failures of the 111th Congress, and warns that things are about to get worse. 

BEACON HILL

The Eagle-Tribune says Gov. Deval Patrick’s pension proposal doesn’t go far enough, while the Salem News praises the governor for finally getting serious about reform.

On “Greater Boston,” newly elected state Rep. Jerry Parisella of Beverly talks about how he will – and has a duty to – balance his obligation to serve in Iraq, where he will deploy next week, while serving his constituents’ needs on Beacon Hill.

The four statewide, non-executive branch constitutional officeholders were sworn in yesterday (yes, naming the offices based on this prompt will be on the test).  Four year terms began for newly elected Auditor Suzanne Bump and Treasurer Steve Grossman and for reelected Attorney General Martha Coakley and Secretary of State Bill Galvin.  The Globe caught up at a Quincy coffee shop with Tim Cahill, the outgoing treasurer and vanquished independent candidate for governor, who shares, among other things, his shock that only last names appear on the general election ballot for governor.   

Supreme Judicial Court nominee Fernande Duffly faces a tough audience in her confirmation hearing before the Governor's Council.

The leader of the Senate Republicans, Bruce Tarr, is the subject of a profile in the Salem News.

HEALTH CARE

On “Not Running a Hospital,” Paul Levy says we need to slow down on the rush to proclaim global payments the panacea for what ails the economics of health care. While he says revenue and budget stability are all well and good, a system of capitated payments could cause an uprising among specialists who could be on the short end of the diagnostic stick.

CLERGY ABUSE

What the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston won't do, Mitchell Garabedian will.  Following unexplained delays in the archdiocese pledge to make public a list of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse, the crusading victims' rights lawyer took matters into his own hands and posted such a list on his law firm's website. The Globe has the story, even if the lead is strangely buried. Garabedian, on Radio Boston, tells why he is releasing the names.

ECONOMY/BUSINESS


Three straight months of increases in building permits issued suggests the housing industry is on the rebound after its one of its worst years, according to USA Today.

GAMBLING


Construction union leaders urge members to lobby for a casino in Western Mass.

STATE OF THE STATES

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is considering laying off 10,000 state employees.

Governors across the country are swearing off income tax increases. The New York Times argues that many states' budget deficits may be too steep for an income tax hike to close, anyway. 

WASHINGTON

House Republicans ram through a health care repeal to nowhere, and somehow manage not to be total savages about it, either. Slate's David Weigel argues the GOP is enjoying its first taste of irrelevance. The Weekly Standard applauds the vote as hewing to the wishes of “a vast majority of Americans.”

Common Cause is trying to get Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas tossed off any campaign finance cases the court might hear, after the pair agreed to appear at an event hosted by conservative financier Charles Koch

National Journal's Reid Wilson tracks the continued withering of the ranks of Congressional centrists.

MEDIA

On “Media Nation,” Dan Kennedy interviews former journalist Dan Gillmor about his latest book, Mediactive, which urges Internet users to hold the new digital media producers responsible and accountable. Kennedy did a profile of Gillmor for CommonWealth back in 2006.

BACKTRACKING

Civility fail: Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley apologizes for saying that only Christians were his brothers and sisters in a Martin Luther King Day speech at the church where the civil rights leader once preached.

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