Shocking News: Private Corporations are Abusing a Well-Meaning Government Subsidy

Perhaps you recall my earlier, hard-hitting journalistic account of the film subsidy that the Alaska state government offers studios as an incentive to film in Alaska; if so, you are awesome and I salute you. If not, click on that link and read the post, dammit!

Anyway, the Alaska subsidy is apparently one of the more generous of its kind, awarding up to 33% of the production cost of the film. In other words, if you film in Alaska, they’ll give you $.33 for every dollar you spend.

Of course, things like cocaine and hookers are more expensive in Alaska, and given the film industry’s penchant for salacious pastimes, its unclear how much a company might actually save. Maybe if the legislature reauthorizes it they’ll call it the “Fairview Floozie Subsidy.”

Naturally, as with any government subsidy, the idea is to spur the private sector into beneficial action; theoretically, if a company films in Alaska, they hire Alaskans and spend lots of cash in the Alaska marketplace. Theoretically.

However, as Kyle Hopkins of the Anchorage Daily News demonstrates, this is not the case. It would seem that film companies are not giving back to the Alaskan worker what they’re taking from the Alaskan coffers:*

Some of the reality TV shows and movies receiving the most money from the state film subsidy program are also paying the least to Alaska residents, state records show.

Of the more than $1 million in wages and salaries the state will subsidize for the sixth season of “Deadliest Catch,” for example, less than $20,000 was paid to Alaska residents. Alaskans were paid 5 percent of the $6 million in salaries subsidized for the Jon Voight thriller “Beyond.”

Those numbers a little shocking, to say the least; especially since Deadliest Catch is such a hit, and moreover requires exceptionally dangerous filming conditions. And some film studios, anxious to underwrite a fat portion of their next Stanley Steamer, are applying for film permits even though their film has nothing to do with Alaska.

It’s not surprising that the film studios would want 33% of their budget refunded to them. And further, it’s not surprising that Alaska lacks the necessary workforce to support a thriving film industry. But to pay a paltry 5% back to Alaskans is a little insulting.

Clearly, one thing needs to happen when the legislature considers reauthorizing this subsidy: dedicate a portion of funds to the University for the maintenance of a film degree. The University of Alaska Anchorage already has excellent theater and journalism/media department, so the infrastructure is in place; all the legislature needs to do is throw them a bone so they can get the requisite equipment and instructors. Hell, make it a graduate degree and entice out-of-state people to come and earn an MA in Anchorage. Of course the legislature will likely not do this, because it would get in the way of all the ridiculous pandering that’s required of them.

But one can hope.

*Normally, one would complain that a subsidy wastes the taxpayer’s money. But Alaska residents do not pay a state income tax, so it just wastes the state’s money that they get from delicious oil.

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