A Double Snookering in the Keystone State

Colin McNickle
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Posted: Sep 20, 2016 12:15 PM
A Double Snookering in the Keystone State

There’s a bad old-fashioned snookering going on in Pennsylvania these days. And it’s two-fold -- economic and political. How apropos for the State of Corruption.

First off, there’s the state film and television production tax credit. Muckety-mucks and cluckety-clucks long have contended it is something akin to a perpetual motion machine, producing far more dollars for Keystone tax coffers than it costs. The claimed “multiplier effect” would make a simple charlatan blush.

One state senator, supposedly sober, claimed that each dollar invested in the film tax credit generates $7 in economic benefits.

“Benefits, benefits, benefits!” its pimps for progressive progress constantly shout. And many of those whose job it is to promote such a deep dive into public purses from the high platform have made it something of a cottage industry to smear economists who beg to differ with, well, you know, the facts.

It was back in 2013 that that Pennsylvania’s Independent Fiscal Office concluded that “for every one dollar in tax credits awarded, the commonwealth recoups 14 cents in tax revenue from the associated economic activity.”

Or as Duquesne University economics scholar Antony Davies put it at the time, “the tax credit sells our tax dollars to the film industry for 14 cents each.”

That might be a great deal for filmmakers but it sure is a raw deal for taxpayers. And things just got worse.

As the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Jason Cato reported this week, Pennsylvania taxpayers have been shelling out millions of dollars in credits for productions that have little to do with Pennsylvania.

To wit, there’s a Los Angeles company’s fabrication of high-end aquariums for high-end clients for “Tanked,” a show on Animal Planet, the newspaper reports. Then there’s the Food Network’s “Restaurant Impossible” program in which a celebrity chef attempts to save eateries in New York, Oklahoma, Oregon and Washington, the Trib notes.

What’s even more laughable is that the newspaper recounts how the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development considers the criteria by which it awards these tax credits to be a state secret.

The agency has woefully poor record of accounting for the public money it dishes out for a variety of projects.

This is economic sophistry at its worst. As Davies told me a few months back, “If film production is such a great cash cow, why aren’t venture capitalists lining up for a piece of the action?”

Because it’s not. And because politicians really are rubes and hope taxpayers are, too.

Now, to that political snookering.

We all know that truth is the first casualty of politics. And a recent poll by Public Policy Polling in the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat challenger Katie McGinty offers further affirmation.

The poll suggests that Keystone State voters are less inclined to vote for candidates opposing significant minimum wage hikes. This, of course, from a liberal Democrat polling outfit. Toomey should be sore afraid, we are led to believe

But Michael Saltsman, research director for the Employment Policies Institute (yes, funded in part by -- GASP! --businesses and foundations), the company’s polling is fraught with problems.

For one thing, Saltsman notes, Public Policy’s same theory fell flat in the 2014 Senate races. While it claimed opposition to higher state-mandated wage floors could be a “decisive issue” in at least nine states, that hardly proved to be the “wedge issue” it supposedly was.

If at first you don’t succeed, shill and manufacture again?

The problem was push polling -- leading or incomplete questions to produce a public perception that is not the reality.

From not giving respondents the option “to indicate they were no more or less likely to vote for a candidate based on their opposition to minimum wage,” to shilling for the supposed “benefits” of a higher minimum by government diktat but conveniently ignoring the well-documented costs, Saltsman suggests this “public opinion” was more or less progressively pre-ordained.

The simple fact of the matter is that higher government-mandated minimum wages reduce the pool of entry-level jobs. And that most hurts the kind of minority job seekers who need the jobs the most. Remember, these are the people that “progressives” claim will be helped the most.

“Labor groups will no doubt continue to promote this flawed poll -- just as they promote the faulty notion that you can raise the starter wage without reducing job opportunities,” Saltsman says. “But Pennsylvania voters are savvy enough to know that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

At least one would hope so. But given the state of critical thinking skills these days, that sadly is not a given.