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The cusp of the new year is traditionally time for kudos – uh, are we allowed to use that word in this trade paper? – and tea-leaf reading. Since a “top ten” is a difficult thing for a Union Roundup column – Top ten contract negotiations of the past year? (On that count, IATSE certainly gets praise for swiftness and focus.) Top ten benefits still (barely) retained by American workers? Top ten jobs still not outsourced by multinational corporations? – we’ll stick to reading tea leaves.The leaves, in this case, being press releases and newspaper clippings from across the great unruly American landscape.First off, we have the news that Governor Mitt “trying-to-run-for-president-as-a-so-called-moderate-Republican.” Romney has signed some film incentives into law making Massachusetts another presumed financial haven for film production. The official Bay State press release tells the tale: “The new law will take effect in 90 days but will be retroactive to January 1, 2006. Its principal elements include a 20-percent tax credit on all Massachusetts source payroll, a 25-percent tax credit on qualified production expense in Massachusetts, and a sales tax credit for producers who spend a minimum aggregate of $250,000 per year in the commonwealth. The law is in place through the year 2013.”There’s also a comment from Mary Ann Hughes, VP, film production planning, Walt Disney Company: “This law makes Massachusetts very competitive in attracting film and TV production. We look forward to doing business in Massachusetts.”So baked beans will now give jambalaya and muffalettas a run for their money in luring film production. It should be noted parts of both states remain vulnerable to hurricane-force storms. (As a Californian, I will keep quiet about earthquakes).But Romney isn’t the only Republican in the party of “culture wars” developing a sudden love for the Mammon God of Hollywood. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s conservative columnist Patrick McIlheran reports on the efforts of one of his fellow travelers, Wisconsin GOP state senator Ted Kanavas, to get some tax breaks going in the land of cheese and LaFollette as well. What’s good about McIlheran’s column is that he lays bare the ideological/political tensions that swirl like a collective id under all such film/art/culture-related proposals. He begins by quoting Kanavas, who compares his legislation to offering tax breaks for high-tech startups, with the added spiff that movies amount to free publicity to raise the profile of a state that desperately needs its profile raised.“This won’t cost you anything,” says Kanavas. He says his bill won’t offer subsidies for filmmakers, just lower taxes. The state’s not offering grants or loans, just forbearance.”And then Kanavas makes a startlingly honest comment: “I have never had an issue with denying the treasury money.”This would explain, of course, the Republican love for sky-high deficits. But Kanavas continues to press his point, and make even more subtext explicit, as noted by McIlheran: “Kanavas alludes to this: Among the backers of the film incentives are officials rarely seen as low-tax enthusiasts. If they accept that lower taxes are good for industries and their workers, that’s a step in the right direction.”For “officials rarely seen as low-tax enthusiasts,” read Democrats and liberals — folks who might normally be seen as “pro-Hollywood,” in a larger, symbolic sense (except in California, where the north/south intrastate culture wars keeps a lot of Bay Area Democrats from supporting tax-subsidies for Dodger-supporting, Lexus-driving Day-of-the-Locust-land producer types). Kanavas and McIlheran, then, want those soft-on-artists lefties to take what is, to them, the next logical step: “being friendly to business generally is important even in industries with big fixed plants, since those, too, are regularly being upgraded, re-evaluated and replaced – or not.”McIlheran’s “or not” seems to hint that it’s the fault of the public sphere – the schools, roads, waterworks, etc., which allow businesses to exist in the first place – that some “fixed plant” businesses can’t upgrade. No one, really, should be paying taxes, in their estimation. Or perhaps, just people who don’t own factories.Certainly, if you don’t own a factory – or the industry in question – you’re being taught, over and over, not to expect too much from your government and your country, in the way of goods, services, or even basic attention.Ron Scherer, writing in the Christian Science Monitor about the high stakes in the just (quasi) settled New York Transit strike: “It’s a collision America is seeing more often: Management tries to have workers move back their retirement age and pay more for healthcare, while workers try to keep their benefits and make up for lost ground on wages.“Some of the issues in the Big Apple – especially the effort to diminish pension and healthcare benefits for future employees – will be watched carefully by other unions. Management teams around the nation will also be watching to see what succeeds and what doesn’t.“’The surprise is that it’s only now that not just unions but [their members] are starting to cry, ‘Where’s mine?’ “ says Ken Goldstein, a labor economist at the Conference Board, a business research organization. ‘We’re paying the price for keeping the lid on wages and costs.’”Indeed. And while you can throw energy and housing in there, what the word “costs” really means, for now, is health care.And eventually, one wonders if every potential strike in Hollywood can be headed off as neatly as IATSE’s was, so many months in advance.What the New York transit workers strike had was a staggering amount of outside pressure, and a lot of media attention, to get the thing settled, no matter what. In New York people actually need mass transit to get around (and so will Angelinos when the oil runs out, but that’s another column for another paper).If health care and other issues – who will pay the pension? The doctor visits? – become too much for Hollywood’s management to bear, and if workers walk out……where will the outside pressure come from, demanding a quick settlement? Sure, everyone working in various dream factories will want the thing settled. But then, a grocers’ strike went on for over four months in L.A.There’ll be even less pressure from the general public to settle the next Hollywood walkout, when it comes. We’ll have more about that in our next column.Have the Happiest of New Years, reader, and drop UR a line when you can:

Written by Mark London Williams

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