More off-screen drama has film combatants busy

October 19, 2009
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Rick Hert of the West Michigan Film Office spends a lot of time pitching West Michigan to movie producers who have heard about Michigan's lucrative incentives for films shot here. His nemesis is State Sen. Nancy Cassis, a Novi Republican and chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

"Nancy Cassis has been a naysayer on the film incentives from the first day," complains Hert. "Every time she offers up legislation (to reduce the incentive), it reverberates throughout the film production community, and people (in the movie business) get nervous and go someplace else."

No doubt about it: The 40-42 percent refundable tax credit has sparked a lot of movie-making in this state. It was Gov. Jennifer Granholm's pet legislation, signed into law with much hoopla in April 2008. Since then, a number of films have been shot in Grand Rapids and more in the Detroit area. The current big production is a $60 million remake of "Red Dawn" taking place almost in Cassis' backyard.

No doubt about it: A lot of money from the Michigan general fund has subsidized well-heeled out-of-state moviemakers like Clint Eastwood, even as the state struggles with a massive budget deficit.

Senate Bill 838, which now goes to the House, includes changes that "would save $34 million from going straight out of the general fund" in the 2009-10 fiscal year, according to Cassis. She added that the Senate Fiscal Agency now estimates that cash refunds to the movie industry this fiscal year would total almost $100 million, minus that $34 million if 838 passes.

SB 838 would reduce the tax credit from 40-42 percent to 37-39 percent.

It would reduce the amount of salary for "above-the-line" movie people — producers and stars — that counts toward the tax credit formula; it now is $2 million and would drop to $1 million.

It adds television commercial production to the law; now commercials don't count. But it also limits the total annual cash refund for commercials to $15 million.

It would require all below-the-line movie workers (the working stiffs) to be residents of Michigan for at least six months before production starts, and it increases the amount of their wages that count toward the refund from 30 to 32 percent.

It increases the credit for investment in permanent studio infrastructure to 30 percent, up from the current 25 percent.

"This is all aimed at hiring Michigan (residents) first and trying to establish more of a permanency" in the budding Michigan movie industry, said Cassis.

Hert says the film credits haven't been in place long enough to give a fair idea of how well it works. He says the money that has been spent here by moviemakers is "much more far reaching" than opponents have claimed.

"It's good for tourism," said Hert, who is also executive director of the West Michigan Tourist Association. "It's good for business."

FDIC banking on the worst

According to, there have been 164 mortgage-related failures and closings from Jan. 1 through Oct. 2 this year. That includes 98 banks that have gone under. For all of 2008, the Web site reported there were 124 total failures, but only 25 of those were banks. In 2007, there were 165 failures, but only three were banks.

So bank failures and closings in the U.S. have increased by 3,167 percent over the last two years, and this year isn’t even 10 months old.

“We are likely to see 2009 mortgage-related closings rise to more than 200 firms by the end of the year. Based on the rising number of regulatory orders being issued against financial institutions, the pace of bank failures is likely to get worse before improving,” said Sam Garcia, the site’s founder and publishers.

Garcia also said the FDIC is proposing to collect three years worth of risk-based assessments in advance this year so it has enough cash to handle all the upcoming failures.

A little window dressing

Was it a peace offering? No member of the Downtown Development Authority said that last week when they allocated $16,000 to make some landscaping improvements to property Kent County owns in the 500-block of Monroe Avenue NW. The county bought the site about five years ago when the Gallium Group tried to buy the county building and City Hall to put a new hotel and office on Calder Plaza.

Every board member agreed to spend the dollars to spruce up the county’s site, which is just a few public memos from Michigan Street, including the county’s DDA representative Commissioner Jim Talen.

“It really will make the property look like more of an open space,” said DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler.

“I think it’s to the benefit of downtown to improve that property’s appearance,” added DDA Chairwoman Kayem Dunn.

The county has been upset with the DDA for a few years now over how the economic development group spends its dollars, its refusal to stop capturing money from the county’s senior and corrections millages, and that the board only rebates excess tax dollars to jurisdictions that go along with its wishes.

The most recent incident popped up in June when the DDA gave the city of Grand Rapids $500,000 to pay for police, fire and park expenditures within its downtown district with non-tax dollars. The county felt that was an inappropriate use of that money because the state charter restricts the board’s spending to economic development things. Kent also said the DDA doesn’t really receive non-tax dollars because all of its revenue is generated from property taxes. The DDA felt the city desperately needed the money because the state has been cutting its revenue-sharing payments to the city, while revenue from income and property taxes has dwindled.

County officials and DDA members have held two face-to-faces since the June allocation. “This, I think, has been a very productive effort,” said Dunn, adding that goodwill has been shown at both meetings. She said the county and the DDA can agree to disagree on these matters, but both should stop short of getting into a legal tussle. The reality is, she said, that everyone is stretched for funding right now.

Dunn and Fowler are scheduled to make a special appearance at the county commission meeting this week. Peace pipes, anyone?

Just trying to help

Poor Commissioner Art Tanis. The Democrat e-mailed his weekly update on Kent County happenings last Monday and offered readers a link to the airport for further info on a matter he brought up. Little did he know that someone apparently hacked into the airport’s Web site (later fixed), which caused those good citizens to catch the hacker’s virus. Not only did Tanis officially e-apologize to everyone, but he also went to some people’s homes to try to un-virus their computers — even a few that were owned by Republicans.

First and ten

New Grand Rapids Community College President Steven C. Ender will have plenty of formal activities to occupy him during this week’s celebration of his investiture as the school’s ninth president, but it will likely be difficult for him not to have a focus on Saturday’s culminating event.

When the GRCC Raiders football team squares off against the Harper College Hawks at Houseman Field on Saturday, it will be a battle between two teams with like records of success — and presidents who look alike. Exactly alike.

Steve Ender and Harper College’s new president, Kenneth Ender, are identical twins, and both are looking forward to a little public sibling rivalry.

“When we were young, we competed for the extra drumstick; when we were older, we competed for the best academic record. And now we’re going to compete for bragging rights over a football victory,” Steve said.

Neither president knew that a rivalry was brewing when they took their new posts as presidents at the two community colleges: Harper College in Illinois and GRCC in Michigan. Turns out that the football teams both play in the Midwest Conference, and a stiff rivalry exists.

“I just happened to look at a football schedule one day and saw Ken’s college team played ours,” said the stoogie-loving Steve. “First thing I thought was: Well, there’s bound to be a wager on a good box of cigars in this somewhere!”

Kickoff is 2 p.m. The cigar-lighting ceremony has yet to be announced.

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