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How Eric Garcetti Botched the Governor's Stance on Hollywood Tax Credits

Jerry Brown
Jerry Brown
Neon Tommy

Mayor Eric Garcetti was up in Sacramento a couple of weeks ago to lobby for one of his top legislative priorities: expanding the state's film tax credit. After a meeting with Gov. Jerry Brown, he was feeling pretty confident.

Garcetti told L.A. Times columnist George Skelton that Brown had been won over. He told Skelton that Brown "has gone from 'We don't need those,' to 'I'm skeptical,' to 'OK, get it in the budget.'"

If true, that would be a big deal. But it seems Garcetti was - at the very least - getting ahead of himself. On Sunday, the Legislature passed a budget that does not include any new money for Hollywood.

So what happened? A few possibilities:

1. Brown changed his mind. Maybe Brown told Garcetti that he wanted the tax credits in the budget, but then changed his position, either on his own or as a result of subsequent conversations.

2. Brown said something that Garcetti misinterpreted as support. The governor's statements can be difficult to parse, and maybe he said something vaguely encouraging that Garcetti chose to run with.

3. Brown said nothing, but Garcetti tried to force his hand by publicly announcing Brown's support. If that was the strategy, it didn't work.

Perhaps there are other explanations as well. Jeff Millman, Garcetti's spokesman, declined to weigh in on why the mayor's prediction had failed to come true. Instead, he chose to focus on the future.

"Mayor Garcetti is pursuing this as standalone legislation," Millman said.

Indeed, the tax credit expansion is still very much alive, even though there's no funding for it in the budget. The state Senate is expected to hold a hearing on the bill next week.

But Brown's position on the matter is as inscrutable as ever. Asked for a comment, Brown's spokesman pointed to a statement the governor made during a press conference in May:

Reporter: Do you support expanding and evolving the tax credit program?
Gov. Brown: I support the revised budget that I presented, and certainly the legislature and my office will engage in a lot of conversations on many issues - the movie tax credit, Medi-Cal provider rates for doctors, nursing homes and others - overtime for in-home supportive services, University of California, early education, child care, cost of living for people on CalWorks. I mean, there's a lot of things to talk about and certainly the topic you mentioned will be right there, front and center.
Reporter: But you're not expressing support either way for the current act...
Gov. Brown: My job is to present a balanced budget dealing with the core services. And, as you look over there you see we've got a big jump from what we thought of in January. And we've got a pension plan that's going to run out of money. So we've got to take care of the basics, and then there will be many other things that the legislature will want to change, and moving money from one program to another, this is the revision. But we'll get a revision to the revision between now and June 15th.

Parse that. An earlier statement in January was no better:

Reporter: Mayor Garcetti says you are resistant to the idea of increasing tax incentives for keeping film production in California. What are your thoughts on that?
Gov. Brown: Well, I am always resistant to spending more money than is in my budget. So the budget speaks for itself. We have given tax credits and we're certainly, again on that subject like others, we're listening. But we just have to be careful. Because the desires are endless and they become needs very quickly. And there is a bit of an arms race between one state and another state. But I feel very loyal to the movie industry and it's part of California and Hollywood is synonymous with what California is, and we certainly want to keep as much production as we possibly can.

If that's his position, then perhaps the wisest move would be to avoid trying to characterize his position at all.