Lobbying for Arts | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Lobbying for Arts

"Give us a dollar, we'll give you a dime." That's the main refrain of the Motion Picture Incentive Act (House Bill 1780), which won the endorsement of the Mississippi House two weeks ago and was awaiting approval by the state Senate as the JFP went to press. The bill passed out of the House by a landslide margin of 117 votes to 2—gratifying news to Ward Emling, Nina Parikh and Betty Black at the Mississippi Film Office, as well as Reps. Diane Peranich and Mark Formby (she authored the bill, he presented it on the House floor), and other advocates of enhancing the state's appeal to filmmakers.

The bill provides for a 10-percent tax rebate of local expenditures, as well as a 10-percent local-payroll tax credit, to both in-state and incoming film productions. (It also broadens the sales-tax exemption for, and otherwise lowers the sales tax on, certain filmmaking equipment that until now hasn't been given such consideration under Mississippi law.) More than half the states in the United States—including Mississippi's neighbors on every side, most notably Louisiana—already offer moviemakers some such incentive or are proposing to do so soon, in effect resulting in an interstate rivalry for film dollars.

Whatever the production budget, it doesn't take much ciphering to figure that old-standby Mississippi attractions having to do with legend and locality could stand a boost from the bottom line. And Mississippi's incentive program—which offers a clean $100,000 return, say, on every cool million spent here—is easier to grasp and promises to be more appealing than most of the competition's. "One thing to remember," says Emling, "[is] they don't get a dime until we get a dollar—they spend their money in Mississippi before we pay."

Another arts-related bill with excellent odds at press time is HB 1740, which allocates funds to the Mississippi Arts Commission for the coming fiscal year. Considering all the talk of cutting the state's deficit in half and the proposed austerity measures being haggled over in the current legislative session, Commission head Tim Hedgepeth says he feels fortunate that the agency hasn't come in for much of a funding hit for 2005, adding that, in fact, the MAC has never been singled out for budget cuts. If only its parent organization could say as much—the National Endowment for the Arts is still recovering from the Reagan administration, which gutted it and at one point proposed to shut it down altogether.

This year the NEA stands to get a big lift from none other than President Bush, who wants Congress to increase its funding by a whopping $18 million. Crotchety old right-wingers aren't the only ones opposed to the idea. Even some subsidy-of-the-arts softies consider it a sop to women voters or contend that too much money is reserved for American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius, a pet project of the president's wife and one that some more critics say is more concerned with heaping tribute on long-lauded genius than with inspiring new talent.

Any stirrings of support for the arts at whatever level of government, especially in these otherwise-fretful times, would seem to be a good omen all around. For the state of Mississippi, HB 1780—which could take effect as early as July—portends a new official regard for movie-making as artistic enterprise and legitimate, lucrative business as well.

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