Budget & Tax

Curtis Shelton | May 6, 2019

Hollywood handouts or help for students?

Curtis Shelton

It’s a common rule of thumb that a movie sequel is never as good as the original (with some notable exceptions like The Godfather: Part II and Aliens).

In a case of life imitating art, the debate over the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate Program has returned to the state Capitol. The program hands out a 35 percent rebate on most expenses for making movies or television programs. The cap on the program was scaled back to $4 million from its original $5 million just last year. An independent analysis of the program recommended ending it altogether due to a lack of positive economic outcomes.

Professor Cynthia Rogers, an economics professor at the University of Oklahoma, said “The empirical research suggests these sort of programs are not cost-effective for stimulating full-time and lasting employment.” Oklahoma would not have been alone in eliminating this program. Since 2009, more than 10 states have gotten rid of their film rebate programs.

But now, SB 200, just sent to the governor's desk, aims at raising the cap to $8 million in rebates.

We previously have contrasted these tax rebates with a program that benefits students, the Equal Opportunity Scholarship program. Economists have found that the scholarship program gets a much better return on state tax dollars than the film incentive program.

But what about the outcomes of the two programs?

The scholarship program helped more than 2,900 students in the 2017-18 school year. These scholarships have allowed students like Hope to attend a school that meets her needs. Positive Tomorrows, a private school for students whose families are homeless, has been able to help more children thanks to the scholarship program. The scholarship program has also awarded $500,000 to public school districts that offer innovative programs such as Chickasha’s robotics team and Pawhuska’s dual-enrollment program.

The film incentive program provided a rebate to six films in fiscal year 2017. You can find a list of movies that have received rebates here. These movies include Pax Masculina, produced by John Scamehorn, and August: Osage County, produced by Harvey Weinstein, both of whom have been accused of sexual misconduct.

Senate Bill 407 would raise the cap on the Equal Opportunity Scholarship program to allow kids like Hope opportunities to succeed. It cleared the state Senate but not the House. Meanwhile, SB 200, to raise the cap for people like Weinstein, now needs only Gov. Kevin Stitt’s signature.

Helping vulnerable students find hope through a different educational environment may be a worthy goal, but as professor Rogers put it, “People feel good about a big-time movie being made in their backyard and the opportunity to brush with famous people.” What politician could pass that up?

Curtis Shelton Policy Research Fellow

Curtis Shelton

Policy Research Fellow

Curtis Shelton currently serves as a policy research fellow for OCPA with a focus on fiscal policy. Curtis graduated Oklahoma State University in 2016 with a Bachelors of Arts in Finance. Previously, he served as a summer intern at OCPA and spent time as a staff accountant for Sutherland Global Services.

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