Last year, I wrote about spending time with Aaron Eckhart and others while they were making the movie “Bill” here in St. Louis, and how the producers told me that Missouri has been used so seldom as a movie location that it leaves open myriad possibilities for future projects.
It would be nice to lure more movie productions here, but the economics of the business means they won’t come unless they’re given tax credits. Those are currently limited by law to $1.5 million a year, an amount so small that it gets used up very quickly, thus limiting the number of film projects that come to the state (last year, some $50 million in movie money didn’t come here because the tax credits had been exhausted already).
Rep. Ed Robb agreed, and in January introduced House Bill 360, which would raise that tax credit to $10 million. Unfortunately, another legislator named Trent Skaggs threw a wrench in the whole works by offering an amendment that would limit movies eligible for those credits to those that reflect “Missouri values.”
Values. The word makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It’s another of those vague terms that politicians like to throw around to pander to their supporters, but which would be impossible to enforce. Who decides what “Missouri values” are? Are they the values of people in the Ozarks or in the Central West End, inner-city St. Louis or upper-class West County, multi-cultural University City or highly conservative Cape Girardeau?
Filmmaker Brent Jaimes, who has worked on many movies and videos shot in St. Louis and throughout Missouri, was on my show to explain the impact of such a “values” restriction. As he wrote to Rep. Skaggs:
Your amendment to award the tax credits only to film projects that espouse “Missouri values,” that recognize the sanctity of life, that do not portray violence or sex, would essentially make the bill worthless and impossible to administer. I have no idea who would make these determinations and I don’t believe your amendment offers any guidance on this issue. Any determination of what these Missouri values are or what these other terms mean would be vague, arbitrary and capricious. It would be impossible to enforce or administer and would certainly be struck down by any court. Surely you know how your amendment would effect this bill and how vague these ideas are.
It appears that your proffered amendment is only an attempt to make the General Assembly and Missouri filmmakers look like laughingstocks to the rest of the industry and the nation. At the same time, it offers you the chance to point out how those who might vote against your amendment are clearly against “Missouri values” and supporters of some unsavory life style as portrayed in current films.
His last point resonates. I can already hear the negative campaign commercials claiming that “John Jenkins voted against Missouri values; John Jenkins is bad for Missouri” — when John Jenkins was truly voting for freedom, for the Bill of Rights, for keeping political posturing out of free speech decisions, for telling lawmakers that censorship is bad.
Politicians like Skaggs don’t give Missourians enough credit to make their own entertainment choices. I’d bet you that Skaggs doesn’t even go to the movies — he’s like those people who don’t have a television but want to tell you what you should be allowed to watch.
I have asked Brent to keep me posted on any progress the bill makes, and whether other Missouri legislators will stand against Skaggs. I’ll post any future updates here.