Subsidizing DMN With Moving Picture Money

Texas taxpayers are subsidizing the Dallas Morning News’ advertising budget through the “film” incentive program. So when you next read an editorial demanding big-government spending, know the DMN has fed from the corporate-cronyism trough.


According to a document we obtained, the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program has subsidized the production of at least one commercial for the Dallas Morning News. Haven’t seen them admit to that in their coverage of state government, have you?

Let me back up. Some conservatives had the temerity during the recent budget debate to suggest maybe those dollars could be put to better use. They got burned when pro-cronyism legislators, like State Rep. Larry Gonzales (R-Round Rock), went to the House floor defending the subsidy program for TV, movies and video games, claiming it brings it new jobs and attracts business. (Kind of like Solyndra and the Obama green energy subsidies, right?)

Of course, the Wall Street Journal says that job-creation argument is utter nonsense, and that taxpayers actually LOSE money on Hollywood subsidies. The 2012 Texas GOP platform calls for a “free enterprise society unencumbered by government interference or subsidies.”

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs’ report on state incentive programs found: “Most jobs created in the Film/TV/Commercials sectors are either temporary, part-time (walk-on) roles, or leave the state upon project completion.”


State Rep. Larry Gonzales
Mr. Gonzales and others imply that the Hollywood subsidy program is there to bring business to Texas. He specifically cited the state’s spending from the fund as being critical the video game industry.

Interesting. Of the $51 million we can account for, only $4 million has gone to video games. The rest went to Hollywood or temp-work: TV and film, $43 million, and commercials $3.5 million.

So what are we getting? What businesses are re-locating here as a result of this subsidy program?

Let’s look at what our tax dollars are subsidizing. Not only is the Dallas Morning News (operating in Dallas since 1885) feeding at the TV commercial subsidy trough, so is mega-grocer H-E-B (founded by Charles Butt in Kerrville in 1905). A review of “moving picture” subsidies shows the San Antonio-based retailer has had a good number of their commercials subsidized by taxpayers.

(For those of you who care about education policy, H-E-B CEO Charles Butt is the money-bags behind efforts to stop education reforms like charter school expansion and parental choice.)

Also getting subsidies for producing the commercials is… the Texas Lottery. How’s that for cross-government subsidization? What, you thought state-endorsed gambling paid for itself? Get real.

Speaking of getting real… The Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program really likes funding “reality” shows. Taxpayers have been generously subsidizing the CMT program the “Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders.” Because, as we all know, a show about the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders could have been filmed entirely in Baltimore.

Ever heard of “Gator 911”? Me either. But we paid for some of it.

We also subsidized “Fun to Grow On,” a reality TV show about having your kids not watch TV. (My head hurts). Then there were the three seasons of “Cheaters,” where spouses dispatch an undercover film crew to see if their significant other is violating one of the Big 10. (Idea: maybe send the kids from “Fun” out with video cameras to track daddy?)

Speaking of cheating, you shelled out $1.8 million for the first (and, thankfully, only) season of “Lone Star” about a Midland oilman with a secret… he keeps two families! Now THAT’s promoting a family-friendly image of Texas. Of the six episodes filmed, only two were shown.

Meanwhile, even though the original “Dallas” managed to survive without Texas tax money, we’ve spent more than $2.1 million subsidizing the TNT re-boot. (No, Bobby, this isn’t a dream.)

Tax dollars also subsidized as a “feature film” the DVD compilation of Barney & Friends. (There’s gotta be a song in there about dinosaurs and big-spending politicians as one, big dysfunctional family.)

Of course, the subsidized movie Bad Kids Go To Hell (IMDB rating of 4.1 out of 10) was mentioned during floor debate last week. On the other side of the moral divide is Seasons of Gray, filmed in 2011 as “the life of a modern day Joseph,” but the producers still have their hand out raising money to get it shown. (The trailer has a nice product-placement for Dodge Ram; it’s red, not a truck-of-many-colors.)

Let’s go back the commercials we’re subsidizing. I mean, maybe a two-timing oil-man (“Lone Star” or “Dallas,” take your pick) might not be good family fare, but at least it’s regular work until it gets dumped (pun intended). But commercial are 60-seconds of interruption to pay the advertising of a for-profit enterprise.

Here’s just some of companies whose advertising programs are being supported by your tax dollars: Walmart, Academy Sporting Goods, Home Deport, TGI Fridays, Nike, Bank of America, Great Wolf Lodge, Taco Cabana, Captain D’s, Whataburger… You can sort through the full list we uploaded as a Google spreadsheet.

Wait… Whataburger? Seriously? It wasn’t too long ago the Legislature proclaimed them a “Texas treasure,” but now they need taxpayers to subsidize their advertising? What-a-joke.

Taxpayers also subsidized Denny’s breakfast commercials; not exactly an R.O.I. grand-slam.

We’re only talking millions of dollars, in a state budget of billions concerning industries dealing in the hundreds of billions. But that state budget of billions is created by spending thousands and millions — all of which comes from your wallet. Cutting here, making better decisions there, it all adds up.

Last note, Texas taxpayers are subsidizing a lot of Hasbro commercials, including — appropriately enough — for the Nerf Super Soaker. But don’t expect the Morning News to write about that.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael is president and CEO of Empower Texans, and its premier project, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. A graduate of Texas A&M, former newspaper reporter, one-time Capital Hill staffer, think tank vice president and an Eagle Scout, Sullivan is married with three children. He divides his time between the Metroplex, the rest of Texas, and Austin.

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