It may seem crazy for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to propose giving tax breaks to film and television productions at the same time there is a state budget crisis, but this is exactly the time to make such a move.

The governor last Thursday announced he wants to extend roughly $100 million a year to producers as an incentive for them to make movies and TV shows in the state. That is a great deal of money, sure, but it is far less than California would lose if more production leaves.

As noted previously in this column and other places, about 40 states and several other countries offer some tax benefit or other incentives to producers who film there. California is not one of them. And some of those giveaways are embarrassingly generous – too generous for producers to pass up.

In fact, many of the producers haven’t. A few years ago, most film production was done in California. Now, most isn’t.

This is a huge issue for Los Angeles, where the entertainment business is the third biggest industry. But it’s really more important than third, since show biz and its glam create the aura that lures tourists and forms the base of other industries, such as fashion and a whole range of creative businesses.

With the slowdown in the economy, producers, like other business executives, may be more enticed than ever to do their work in another state. That’s why it’s important now for California to pass some kind of incentive for Hollywood to stay in, well, Burbank or wherever it may be in the state.

What’s more, California does not have to copy some of the other states by giving away egregiously huge incentives. The governor is proposing producers get a tax credit of 20-25 percent, much less than Michigan’s 42 percent, for example. That’s just enough to blunt the allure of places like Canada, Louisiana and New Mexico.

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I thought something must be wrong with the gas pump early last week when it stopped at $39. I tried to pour in more gasoline, but the tank was topped off. Then I remembered: Gasoline prices are now less than $3 a gallon. For my little car, a fill-up that cost more than $50 not long ago now costs less than $40. Good deal, huh?

But the joy was short-lived. The next morning, my commute to work was about 20 minutes longer than it had been a few weeks earlier. Ditto for the ride home. Thanks to lower gas prices, L.A.’s infamous traffic jams have returned.

Let’s see. If gasoline prices went back up to where they were last summer, I would have to pay maybe $12 more for a fill-up. In return, I’d get to spend three or four fewer hours a week stuck in traffic. That comes out to roughly $3 or $4 an hour.

If someone could offer you such a deal, wouldn’t you take it? Wouldn’t you like to spend, say, $12 a week to get three or four more hours at home or even at work instead of listening to drive-time radio? That’s a better deal, no?

Yes, I long for the good, not-so-old days of higher prices and less traffic. I’ll admit this is selfish, but here it is: I sure wish gasoline prices would go up again.