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Mar. 10 2010 - 11:17 pm | 75 views | 0 recommendations | 5 comments

Is a virtue bonus better than a sin tax?

Cover of "Brokeback Mountain (Widescreen ...

Cover of Brokeback Mountain (Widescreen Edition)

I think it is.  Which is why I don’t understand the tsk-tsking I’m hearing about Florida’s plan to give extra incentives to movie companies that make squeaky clean films.

Like most — all? — states in this economy, Florida is looking for ways to attract business, and thus jobs. And — no surprise, considering Florida’s bounty of scenic beauty — it thinks it’s best bet is to offer enhanced incentives to film companies who make their movies in the state.

No one seems opposed to that no-brainer idea. But now state legislators want to offer an extra tax break for making “family friendly” movies. And of course, howls of censorship and discrimination are hitting the airwaves.

Where’s the beef?

Florida has always offered added incentives to companies who could prove their movies were suitable for the most strictly-brought-up kiddies.
Or, as the Times describes it, “Right now the bonus can go only to movies suitable for a 5-year-old, with “cross-generational appeal” and “a responsible resolution of issues.” Not surprisingly, only six films have qualified in the last three years.

The extra incentive would go only to those companies whose films do not seem to embrace “nontraditional family values.” And it’s the vague wording that is generating the hoopla:

“There are millions of families led by single parents, there are millions of families led by gay couples, or families with children being raised by an aunt or uncle or grandparent,” Mr. Winfield [Brian Winfield, a spokesman for Equality Florida]said. “Every one of these fits into what has been offered as a possible definition of ‘nontraditional family values.’ Who knows who it would discriminate against?”

Again, where’s the beef? There’s no quota on how many films can be made, so it’s not as though a bible epic is squeezing out a porn flic, or Narnia is taking Brokeback Mountain’s slot. So where’s the discrimination? Or the censorship?

That’s where the concept of sin tax vs. virtue bonus comes in. I remember when gas stations first started offering “discounts” for self service, and later, for paying with cash. Yeah, right — the price for serving yourself and paying cash was the price you were used to paying for gas. If you wanted full service, or to charge the sale, you paid a premium. This is NOT glass half empty, glass half full, or any other semantic trick. It was business getting customers to do their labor and pay their Amex fees. They presented it as a virtue bonus but in fact it was a sin tax.

At least Florida is being up front about it. It’s saying, we want your business, even if we have to hold our legislative noses at the movies you make. And we’ll give you an incentive to film it here. But if you actually make the kind of movie we respect, we’ll pay you even more. I have no problem with that. Do you?


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    I completely disagree. This is just another way for fundamentalists to sneak religion into our government, and as such, I am unequivocally opposed. Whose traditions define “non-traditional” family values? And I mean that literally, who will be on the board that decides what traditional family values are? Will it be someone like me or someone like Rush Limbaugh? As someone like me – I don’t want Rush to give bonuses with government money for agreeing with him.

    • collapse expand

      We’ll agree to disagree. I would have a huge problem if people who made non-qualifying films didn’t get incentives. But adding a bit extra? Doesn’t bother me in the least. As long as there’s no quota — i.e., Old Yeller gets made meaning Brokeback Mountain doesn’t — then hey, add bonuses for whatever you think will bring in more jobs. If it means a family flick will be filmed in Florida rather than, say, New Mexico, then it works for the state’s tax payers.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    I graduated from Cornell with a degree in child psychology, enough years ago so that all you needed to break into journalism was willingness to starve. I went into business journalism because, in the 60s, the business press was the crusading press, the ones that wrote about environment, race relations, etc. Since then I have worked for Business Week, Chemical Week and, from 1984 through May 2008, BizDay at the New York Times. I remain bored by and ignorant of esoteric financial instruments; I remain fascinated and pretty knowledgeable about management, marketing, environment, all the non-financial aspects of business. But my true passions? Tennis, both playing and watching, and food, both cooking and eating.

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