Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Why Stop at the Film Tax Credits?

In case you missed the late news today, the film tax credits are as good as gone (pretty much as we anticipated last week).

I doubt there's much that can be done to reverse this course, but since we're heading down this path that will save us an estimated $10 million over the course of a biennial budget that runs about $57 billion large -- or 0.0175% (all in the name of shaving roughly 0.175% off the estimated budget deficit) -- I think we should all come to ask ourselves "Why aren't we cutting more?"

Allow me to offer a modest proposal.

Every year school districts in Wisconsin waste hundreds of millions of dollars on honors English classes, fine arts and music electives and superfluous humanities classes. We should get rid of them all. Clearly there is absolutely no reason to have any of these courses taught to our students because there is no way for them to make a living here in Wisconsin practicing these trades. The only way for a literary-minded English major to make a living in Wisconsin is to teach. We should just eliminate that option all together.

There is no point in trying to teach our kids to read, comprehend and interpret the written word or to create it beyond what is necessary for an interdepartmental memo since there is no way to make a living crafting penetrating prose or insightful story-telling here in Wisconsin. Having our kids creating well-written works of fiction or non-fiction is pointless in this state; as is story-telling in other forms, such as photography, film or music. We spend just under $10,000 per student per year here in Wisconsin. We can lower that figure significantly by just getting rid of these unnecessary programs.

As things currently stand, Wisconsin has great public schools. A kid can grow up spending 13 years in a Wisconsin public school from K-12 (at a tax-payer expense of roughly $130,000) and receive a quality education in literature or fine arts. They can even attend UW-Madison, which has one of the best English departments is the country, or attend film programs in Madison or Milwaukee or even Oshkosh. But when they're done they have to go elsewhere. Usually it's Chicago or one of the coasts. Why are we wasting all of this tax-payer money investing in children who are inevitably going to leave the state to pursue their profession?

Wisconsin has made large commitments to the agriculture, manufacturing, bioengineering and even tourism industries. These are obviously the future of the state's economy and since we are abandoning our creative industries there's little point in having the state of Wisconsin provide costly quality educations to people who will eventually be living, working and paying taxes in Illinois, California, New York or elsewhere.

Right now Wisconsin isn't a draw for smart young adults who want to design things, play in bands on the weekends and maybe spend a year or two working at Starbuck's before that finally get that business plan put together to start their own web design company -- or the people who want to hang around these folks. We're not keeping them here either. Why not just let them go altogether? Better yet, by selling the Wisconsin educational system as one big vocational school, we'll be able to draw families from around the country who want to raise their kids to be farmers, assembly line technicians, bioengineers or tour guides.

Of course, I'm not suggesting we eliminate all English classes. We'll still need to teach kids how to read, but there won't be much point in having them read Shakespeare or Mark Twain or F. Scott Fitzgerald, since they will have no need for it later in life, at least if they plan on continuing to live in Wisconsin. Sure, these and other works may shed light on certain moral and social truths that are difficult to explain in another forms, but since Wisconsin won't be producing any of these works in future there's no sense in bothering introducing them to our students.

Right now, as I said earlier, the only job for an English major who wants to pursue his course of study in Wisconsin is to teach. These jobs are rare. It's next to impossible to get a job in the Oshkosh Area School District, for example, let alone one teaching English. We should should just eliminate these jobs altogether and stop suggesting that young people who want to pursue creative enterprises can do so in Wisconsin. Let's just send them on their merry way and have them take their quality of life enhancements with them.

We've noted elsewhere that Wisconsin has made significant contributions to both the film industry and art in the past and that even today there are folks with Wisconsin ties who have gone on to make large impacts in the medium. This would seem to suggest that Wisconsin is a ripe environment for the development of a film industry and potentially other arts communities. But since our state leadership has no interest in investing a relatively small amount of state funds to encouraging the growth of the industry by allowing it to compete with other states that other lucrative incentives, we should just dismiss these achievements as anomalies.

So if we're going to start cutting fat, let's get serious about it. And while we're at it we can stop fooling our kids into thinking they can make movies and tell stories that might be entertaining, maybe even profitable, close to home. Wisconsin shaves a ton of taxes from it's education budget and stops providing good educations for productive people in other states. Everyone wins.

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