When the hit cult series about an unlikely hero in the methamphetamine industry first aired, people noticed the landscape. Albuquerque, NM, the setting for Breaking Bad wasn’t just a vast open space of desert but an oasis far from the glittery overpriced, and over-taxed environment for the entertainment industry. And the Land of Enchantment is addictive. In 2021 alone, the state has raked in $623 million from the entertainment industry. For one of the poorest states in the nation, that’s a haul. Netflix and NBC Universal have studios in Albuquerque – the largest populated city in the state at around 550,000 hard-working folks. Even in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, a whopping 26 films and 24 television projects have been produced in the Land of Enchantment.
Why would a desolate state – albeit with beautiful weather – lure the likes of the glam crowd? What else but money. There’s an enticing 35% tax incentive just for the entertainment industry – which the state needs desperately after the Democrat trifecta government has tried to remove any traces of the number one economic driver, the oil and gas industry.
Location, Location, Location
Predictably, housing is much less expensive in New Mexico than in California. The influx of studio folks and ancillary creative businesses has caused an uptick in new construction in and around production studios. And folks that apply make-up, create special effects, and design the wardrobes – transient or not – need a place to call home for the duration of the shoot or the series. The good news is most of these people eat. They shop at grocery stores and boutiques and the corner Walgreen’s, so everyone benefits from California’s minimal loss. New Mexico is also benefitting from entertainment-related tourism. Visitors love to tour filming locations, seek out the coordinates where Breaking Bad character Walter White buried his money, and indulge in the blue-tinted fake meth candy. Folks find out soon enough that buried money leads to ABQ Studios.
Of course, the complimentary camera angles on the sweet deal New Mexico is experiencing may be fleeting at best. As some say, “we’ve seen this movie before.”
Who’s Gonna Call Saul?
It appears Hollywood is settling in nicely in the desert southwest – well – except for a few fiscally minded folks who see the big picture and are raising a stink. State Representative Rod Montoya – a Republican – has called the tax incentive programs a “giveaway of our money to people in other states.” He also says the state only nets 45 cents for every dollar spent. Local economic development folks are also spooked and say New Mexicans aren’t getting the whole story. “If you say we’re attracting all of this spending to the state, that’s great, but what are you spending to get those businesses to come here?” asks Paul Gessing, the Rio Grande Foundation president.
And then we have Pat Garofalo, director of state and local policy for the American Economic Liberties Project, who routinely weighs in on the negative impact of public subsidies. The New Mexico and Netflix deal caught his discerning eye, and he has claimed it’s all a big “swindle” of the state. “Every independent analysis that has looked at this finds these types of film incentive programs are paying back pennies on the dollar.” But that’s not all, as he went on to explain:
“But that’s just the opening credits if you will. New Mexico also has a very generous film tax credit program, which provides film companies with reimbursements for 25-30 percent of their qualified costs. These are straight-up checks to film productions that do their work in the state. That program opens the door to some $300 million for Netflix, under its current spending patterns.”
NM Isn’t the First Sucker in the Hollywood Ponzi Scheme
There is a long trail of tears from city Cinderellas waiting on the prince with the magical slipper. Austin gave it a whirl, attempting to rebrand itself as the Third Coast in the late 1970s, and that just didn’t work. And we all saw what happened to Georgia when one wrong political move by the state legislature had the left coast big wigs scrambling to repair their reputation and punish the state.
Much like the state of Texas, where oil and gas are kings, New Mexico already has an economic industry that pays for itself and the state. Not to say that having a side hustle is a bad thing – it’s just not a fiscally reasonable way to improve the state’s economy, no matter how fun and festive fake meth candies can be.
Read more from Sarah Cowgill.