Tax Dollars for Tinseltown Toadying in Las Cruces

Sep 24, 2018

Commentary: The City of the Crosses has an inferiority complex.

New Mexico’s generous — and as an economic-development tool, deeply ineffective — freebies for Hollywood are skipping Las Cruces. That’s why the city’s pols, educrats, and media figures have pressed, for years, to build film-and-television-related infrastructure in their region.

Film Las Cruces, originally the Regional Film Development Advisory Committee, signed a memorandum of understanding with city councilors in November 2015. Local government committed to “work collaboratively to promote and develop film and entertainment arts industries in Dona [sic] Ana County,” aiming at “the development of film and entertainment arts assets including a film office, film liaison staff, production infrastructure, trained film and entertainment arts production workforce, and educational training.” Initial cost to taxpayers: $95,000 per year, for three years.

At the time, no one stopped to ponder why the city was hitching its wagon to a nonprofit entity that had yet to obtain tax-exempt approval from the IRS — a source tells Errors of Enchantmentthat the group didn’t even file for 501(c)(3) status until earlier this year. With State Sen. Jeff Steinborn, a Las Cruces Democrat, serving as the group’s president, pesky questions about propriety didn’t get in the way. (Neither did concerns about Steinborn’s complete lack of experience in the private sector, much less the film-and-television industry.)

Next up for the city’s La La Land lapdogs was a studio. Two years ago, the local daily whined that a “proposed film site for southern New Mexico has gone from Corralitos Ranch to the Las Cruces Convention Center to a number of sites currently under consideration, including the former Coca Cola bottling plant on South Valley Drive, all since funding was first appropriated by the Legislature in 2014.” The process continued to drag along, until February, when Film Las Cruces announced that it was “opening a new film studio for film production and workforce training.” Dubbed “Las Cruces Studios,” and located at the aforementioned bottling plant, the facility — operated in partnership with Doña Ana Community College — can “accommodate all sizes of film productions from major motion pictures and television series, to independent and student films and commercials.”

But at 74,000 square feet, Las Cruces Studios is hardly cavernous. It won’t make Las Cruces an industry “player” in the way that Albuquerque and Santa Fe are. So the dream is to spend millions of dollars — in Steinborn-secured state “capital outlay,” and perhaps a portion of the city’s tax on lodging — on a bigger facility, possibly located at the Las Cruces Convention Center.

Meanwhile, there are other ways to entice productions. At a “work session” earlier this month, the city’s Economic Development Department outlined a new incentivization scheme:

The city would pay 10 percent of “qualified expenses” to film production companies that spend at least $100,000 in Las Cruces. The program, if approved, would make Las Cruces the first city in the state to offer such an incentive to filmmakers.

To be eligible for the incentive, film producers would have to enter into an agreement with the city and agree to provide certain services designed to help develop the film industry in Las Cruces.

It could, for example, agree to allow the city to disclose that the filming was occurring in the city and include the city in promotions for the film. It could provide an educational forum for the local film community. It could agree to hire a minimum of 10 local residents, not including background actors.

The program would provide even greater incentives for television series and other episodic productions because they would typically film for longer periods. They could earn an additional $10,000 per episode if they produced at least five episodes in Las Cruces.

Rather than accept the blindingly obvious failure of Hollywood subsidies to build a viable entertainment industry in New Mexico, Las Cruces’s “public servants” are doubling down — eagerly dedicating ever-larger amounts of tax revenue to a job-creation chimera. It’s an inexcusably dunderheaded attempt to revive the metro area with arguably the worst economy in the state.

One thing you can never say, Las Crucesians — that you haven’t been told.