Over the last several years, lobbyists for the movie industry have made multiple attempts to bring back special tax breaks for Hollywood studios in Arizona. After failing to resurrect the unpopular tax credit program that expired in 2010, they pivoted to a new subsidy: a taxpayer financed state film office.
Movie producers claimed a film office is needed because Hollywood studios didn’t know who to call when filming in Arizona if they needed access to state monuments, freeways, etc. This argument was obviously nonsense—movies have been filmed in AZ for decades at special locations without such an office, and securing film locations is an issue easily addressed by the private sector.
Thankfully, the legislature saw through their claims and rejected two separate proposals to fund a state film office and provide subsidies to the industry.
This should have been the end of the story, except last month the Arizona Commerce Authority announced a joint venture with a local film studio to provide taxpayer funding for a state film office, along with additional grants and discounts to moviemakers.
How the Commerce Authority is unilaterally funding a state film office with taxpayer money after the legislature rejected such an expenditure raises several questions:
Who at the ACA authorized such an expenditure? Where in statute does the ACA have the power to fund such a program? Does the ACA have a secret fund to pay for special interest projects the legislature rejects? If the ACA can fund a film office, what projects can’t it fund in the future?
The ACA’s untethered purse strings is a major issue that must be investigated. The good news is lawmakers will soon have an opportunity to get answers. The Commerce Authority is once again up for sunset review, and will have to go before the legislature in the Fall for reauthorization. Last time the ACA received only a 2-year renewal, specifically because of their lack of transparency and poor results.
They promised to do a better job and clean up their act, and we assume that they will make the same promises. Judging by their questionable actions, they must think that it is far easier to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission. Hopefully lawmakers won’t be duped again and will finally reign in this rogue agency.