I think Quentin Tarantino is a fine filmmaker. From “Reservoir Dogs” to “Jackie Brown” to “Inglourious Basterds,” he delivers. ”Pulp Fiction” may just be the greatest movie of its era.
But, as a resident of California, I’ve got a problem. Not with him personally, but with the financing of his latest film.
He recently had to drop his longstanding business relationship with Harvey Weinstein (for obvious reasons) and shop his ninth feature, a story related to the Charles Manson murders, to the major studios.
Sony got the project. But, in addition, his film will receive an $18 million production tax credit from the California Film Commission, for which it will be shot in-state.
Tarantino’s project is only one of several films getting a big break. They’re all part of a tax credit program created by the California Legislature that, over the years, will offer hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits.
The Film Commission justifies its actions by claiming California needs the program to compete for projects.
Really? Then how does the state justify hitting up its taxpayers for so much? We residents do even more business in the state than film companies, but we’re not getting any breaks.
Quite the opposite. California has the highest income tax rate in the nation. The state’s top rate is 13.3 percent. Some dismiss it, saying that’s just for millionaires, but if you make just $43,000 the rate is 8 percent, and if you make $54,000 it’s 9.3 percent.
California also has a huge gasoline tax and the highest state-level sales tax in the nation. Overall, Californians shoulder one of the largest tax burdens in our country. And while we’re at it, the state also ranks high in the burden it places on businesses.
So I have to ask: If Golden State leaders believe giving a tax break to filmmakers is good for the local economy, why don’t they want to give a break in general to all residents? Sauce for the goose and all that.
My guess is that Tarantino was going to film in-state anyway. The Manson murders took place here, and when he’s got a story set in California, he shoots here.
But even if he might have gone elsewhere for a better deal, guess what? It’s not that hard for an individual citizen to pack up and leave a state if another one offers a better deal. That goes double for businesses.
On top of which, high taxes can discourage people from moving here, and from locating their business here. (The numbers seem to bear this out. In recent years, the rate of population growth has been cut to less than half of what it was.)
So if the state wants to make it easier on Tarantino, can’t they also try to take it easier on me, and tens of millions of my fellow Californians?
In effect, my tax money is going to subsidize Tarantino’s film. I’ll be the first in line to buy a ticket when it opens, but don’t make me an unwilling investor. Not unless I get to own a piece of it.