First came the hissy fit, then the schmooze.
“House of Cards,” the addictively popular Netflix series about rough-and-tumble politics, is playing bad lobbyist, good lobbyist in Annapolis these days. The end game is tax breaks, aka free money.
After threatening to abandon Maryland if its financial demands weren’t met, the series tried a softer touch, sending its star, Kevin Spacey, to rub elbows with politicos in Annapolis.
“House of Cards” isn’t the only show or movie produced in Maryland in recent years, but it has become the pouting face of the state’s film tax credit fund.
For fiscal years 2012 through 2014, the state could award up to $7.5 million in film tax credits each year. “House of Cards” was one of the beneficiaries.
A state Department of Business and Economic Development report says that to retain “House of Cards” and “Veep,” another series, the legislature in 2013 boosted the tax credit fund to $32.5 million for three years. Not surprisingly, those credits were gobbled up.
For its first season in 2012, “House of Cards” received a tax credit of $11.7 million, but reportedly had an economic impact of more than $138 million, spending at more than 1,800 Maryland businesses, not to mention local technicians and actors it hired (temporarily).
For season 2, “House of Cards” was approved for another $15 million.
For season 3 in 2015, the production qualified for $15 million, but was approved for $4 million, according to DBED.
That’s where it gets ugly.
Early this year, a film production executive wrote to state leaders demanding more tax-break money. Otherwise, the company will “break down our stage, sets and offices and set up in another state,” the letter says.
Recently, Spacey charmed a packed room of legislators, relatives and staffers at a private reception at an Annapolis bar. Pass a bill with a higher tax credit, he gently urged them.
MarylandReporter.com posted a photo album of giddy pols posing for photos with Spacey.
This is not how economic development should be — awed legislators who control the purse strings, straining for their brush with a star. It looks and feels unseemly.
We’re leery of the potential for puffed-up economic numbers and wonder why there’s so much fawning over jobs that are here for short bursts, then go away.
Who is asking: Could this tax-credit money be used just as well, or better, some other way?
Most of all, we’re turned off by strong-arm politics. Glitz or not, this is just another business grabbing what it can.
Don’t give in; let the “Cards” fall where they may.