Goodbye Ugly Betty — And 75 Million Dollars

Bonnie Reiss
Director of the University of Southern California's Schwarzenegger Institute

Last week I was meeting with Tony Plana, the actor that plays Ugly Betty’s father at their Hollywood studio set, and while the show is a huge success with ABC having ordered 26 episodes for their upcoming season, it felt like a funeral on the set that day. The reason for this — Ugly Betty is just the latest production lured away by New York’s lucrative tax incentives, one of 40 states now offering such incentives.

Those who think tax breaks for TV and movie productions are a giveaway to rich actors, directors and producers are very wrong. The actors and other "above the line" people go with the production to whatever state they move to. It is the "below the line" people who lose their jobs-the drivers, carpenters, set designers, make up artists, craft services and production assistants.

The entertainment industry is iconic to California, contributing 38 billion dollars to our economy and employing over 250,000 people. During the recent writers strike the LAEDC estimated the cost to California was 2.5 billion dollars. Yet, while 40 states see the merit of offering financial incentives to "steal" these jobs from California, some in our legislature are too shortsighted to take smart aggressive action.  In 2006 the Governor, speaker Nunez and minority leader Kevin McCarthy joined together to push such a bill, but the Senate refused to consider it. The legislation would not have even cost the taxpayers or state budget anything, as it used a "revolving fund" which was more than made up for by the productions themselves.

Perhaps next year when the Chamber lists their "job killing bills" they can suggest a list of "job creating bills", and perhaps with the new Senate President Steinberg having served as Assembly budget chair, the Governor will have more success in supporting an industry that the whole world associates with California, and keep these "below the line" jobs from leaving our state.

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