Wednesday, January 27, 2010
IN MY OPINION (Column)
Lights, Camera, Action!
By JON COUPAL
It is said the most dangerous place in Sacramento is between a politician and a TV camera. This is because politicians, by nature, subsist on attention. Since the media has a guiding principle, “If it bleeds it leads,” politicians know they will not get good coverage simply by being good stewards of the public’s business. They must show action! So what we end up with, not surprisingly, is lots of activity and very little in the way of results.
Let’s take for example lawmakers’ efforts to stop runaway movie production through tax incentives. While raising taxes on average folks to the tune of $12.6 billion last February, the Legislature provided over $2 billion in tax breaks to favored businesses including film production companies. But to what effect?
A study sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation shows that movie production incentives fail to spur economic growth or raise tax revenue. “Motion picture incentives are often touted as ‘job-creating’ programs, but they create mostly temporary positions with limited upward mobility,” said the report’s author, William Luther.
The hype that Luther refers to comes, of course, from the politicians—any Hollywood connection is a great photo op—but this is just another empty action that does not bear results. “The only thing these incentives create is the need for ongoing credits and subsidies,” added Luther, while pointing out that other states respond by sweetening their own incentives.
In order to get attention beyond the local confines of California, politicians will also intrude themselves on more global problems, real or perceived. Concerned about climate change? Lawmakers are all over it. They will take noisy credit for Assembly Bill 32, passed with the stated goal of reducing greenhouse gases.
Again, lots of flash but, ironically, little heat with this issue. The governor says the restrictions on industry and limits on the lifestyle of average Californians will make us the world’s leader in limiting carbon emissions and creating green jobs.
Unfortunately, the reality is not so rosy or robust. A study by two Cal State Sacramento professors shows the actual cost just to small businesses will be $49,692 each, and result in a loss of 1.1 million jobs. The professors did not take up some of the nutty ideas being brought forward to meet the AB 32 goals, like criminalizing driving with underinflated tires with penalties up to six months in jail and a fine of $1,100.
Californians might consider accepting the steep cost of AB 32 if it would produce actual results. But the governor and his “green economy” acolytes in the Legislature fail to recognize that greenhouse gases have no respect for borders. Yes, you can reduce carbon emissions in California. But what good is that if the real jobs and production we lose simply shift to other states and countries where the political leadership hasn’t gulped the global warming Kool-Aid?
The examples of politicians backing new, sexy and expensive programs are endless. A bullet train from San Francisco to Los Angeles might sound like a great idea, but when the real costs and ridership are considered it quickly becomes an idea which is simply not ready for prime time. It is tragic that California legislators are learning this after they took the issue to the voters and not before.
The point here is not to condemn political leadership for what they spend their time on. What is tragic is what they don’t spend their time on. Simply stated, line-by-line budget review is not sexy and is not conducive to big press conferences. In-depth analysis of public employee compensation policies is not a great photo op. Oversight of existing programs, rather than creating a new program, won’t make headlines. But this is the really important work that needs to be done—especially in a state that is in a de facto state of bankruptcy.