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Editorial: Will N.M.’s Workforce Keep Cameras Rolling?

For years, New Mexico taxpayers have been assured that if they build a trained workforce, the television and movie projects will come.

This week two announced that they’re leaving.

The departures of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” and USA Network’s “In Plain Sight” after their fifth seasons are more creatures of storyline than slipping popularity. Each draws an average of more than 4 million viewers.

Nick Maniatis, the new director of the New Mexico Film Office, wants to “pull more TV shows into the area” because of their longer shooting schedules.

It seems like that would be an easy task, given that Anne Lerner, director of Albuquerque’s film office, says, “Variety Magazine says that outside of L.A. and New York, New Mexico has the most qualified crew, so I am just very confident about the future of film in New Mexico.”

The question is whether studios are more confident about placing their projects in a state with a professional workforce or one with even bigger taxpayer giveaways.

New Mexico refunds 25 cents for every dollar spent on approved expenses in a film or television production. By comparison, Michigan refunds 42 percent; Alaska 44 percent.

Since 2006 New Mexico taxpayers have shelled out an estimated $311 million in film rebates. Granted, the productions do spend big money here and employ many New Mexicans.

Yet the program’s bottom line — what industries benefit and how much, how many jobs are created and for what pay — remains hidden behind misnomers like “tax credit” and “trade secret” to avoid any real accountability.

Earlier this year the state capped its rebate program at $50 million a year. That prompted a gold rush of sorts, with projects stampeding to file before the cap kicked in and pushing the state’s fiscal 2011 payout up by an estimated $20 million to $30 million, to $85 million to $95 million.

John Hendry, the business agent for International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 480, asks “can you blame picture companies for doing that?”

No — but if he’s also right that 2011’s gain will be 2012’s loss, with business falling off so dramatically the state doesn’t even come close to hitting that $50 million cap, taxpayers can blame a flawed system that is based more on handouts to studios than a high-level workforce.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.