Iowa Fiscal Partnership supports suspension, investigation of film credit program

A critical problem with Iowa tax credits is a lack of transparency.

Governor Culver acted responsibly Friday by ordering a suspension of the state’s film tax-credit program pending further investigation of irregularities in the management of the program.

A critical problem with the film credit and many other economic development tax advantages offered to industry by the state of Iowa is a lack of transparency. State lawmakers and the public for the most part have no idea whether current tax breaks — which are typically granted as corporate entitlements — are actually performing as intended.

The initial investigation has exposed the film credits, as currently in place, as a boondoggle that is draining our state treasury. Further, this is coming at a time when our state leaders are anticipating budget cuts. All spending — including spending through the tax code — needs to be on the table when considering cuts to the budget.

Those taking advantage of apparent lax management of the film-credits program may indeed be ruining it for other filmmakers who have not done so. Nevertheless, there is no justification for continuing this program while all the problems with it are being sorted out, and while education and fundamental human services are threatened with budget cuts.

[The Iowa Fiscal Partnership is a joint budget and tax policy analysis initiative of two Iowa-based nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations, the Iowa Policy Project in Iowa City and the Child & Family Policy Center in Des Moines.]

Tighten loose belts on largest waists

It might surprise Iowans to learn that state general fund spending has declined as a share of the economy. That is the reality — even if it’s not the common rhetoric heard from the State Capitol.

But one area of state spending is spinning out of control: spending through the tax code on business development projects. Business tax credits have grown from $144 million in fiscal 2006 to $243 million last year. The Department of Revenue projects this figure to spike to $406 million next fiscal year.

These credits might not be reviewed by the Legislature as it builds its budget. This kind of spending is done through the tax code, not the regular appropriations process. Once enacted, these credits are not subject to annual reauthorization and can grow well beyond what anyone expected, and for activities not intended when they were passed.

Business tax credits in Iowa are on autopilot. We cannot afford this, and the current budget crisis offers a good time to address it.

See the new paper, “Iowa Budget Belt-Tightening: Fosusing on the Largest Waists,” from the Iowa Fiscal Partnership at http://tinyurl.com/d8rkm2.