House of Cards to Maryland: Cough up the tax breaks, or we're leaving

Unlike my esteemed colleague Allahpundit, I have yet to watch one frame of House of Cards, the Netflix original-series sensation that has captivated the US with its depiction of a ruthless Washington DC. I’m in the minority, apparently. Beltway denizens love it for its over-the-top power grabs and, er, competence, while for the rest of America it serves as a validation of everything we hate about backroom dealings and the people who live for them. If it’s not real life, then it’s better than real life.

And … it just got more real. The producers have issued an ultimatum to the state of Maryland, demanding a bigger share of taxpayer subsidies — or they’ll call in the moving vans:

A few weeks before Season 2 of “House of Cards” debuted online, the show’s production company sent Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley a letter with this warning: Give us millions more dollars in tax credits, or we will “break down our stage, sets and offices and set up in another state.”

similar letter went to the speaker of the House of Delegates, Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), whose wife, Cynthia, briefly appeared in an episode of the Netflix series about an unscrupulous politician — played by Kevin Spacey — who manipulates, threatens and kills to achieve revenge and power.

In recent years, Maryland has spent more than $40 million to reward movie and television production companies that choose to film in the state, and most of that largesse has gone to “House of Cards.”

“This just keeps getting bigger and bigger” Del. Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery), who until now has supported film tax credits, said at a hearing on the issue last Friday. “And my question is: When does it stop?”

The city of Cleveland feels your pain, I’m sure. The last time Maryland got involved in one of these taxpayer-shakedown rackets, they were the enablers — when the Cleveland Browns packed up their team and headed to Baltimore to become the Ravens. In this case, they’ve invested $40 million in a television production, and that’s before the second season even began airing. Did they at least negotiate ownership rights? Naaaaaah.

Supposedly, this created 6,000 jobs and inflated the economy of Maryland by $250 million, according to economic data supplied by the state’s economic development office to the Post’s Jenna Johnson. I find those numbers incredible … in the most literal sense of the word. One season of a televsion show aired exclusively by Netflix created a quarter of a billion dollars in economic activity in a single year? What were the 6,000 jobs created by a television series in one season? The budget for the series is $3.8 million per episode, which includes salaries that get spent elsewhere than in Maryland. The first season ran 13 episodes, which puts the total production investment for Season 1 at $49.4 million. If even half of that got spent in Maryland, I’d be surprised, thanks to the star salaries involved — but it if did, Maryland is claiming a 10:1 multiplier factor. That’s utter nonsense.

I get the idea that introducing new production into an economy creates secondary and tertiary jobs and trade, but this claim is so ridiculous that practically qualifies for satire on House of Cards itself. As for Mr. Luedtke’s question — “When does it stop?” — the answer is that it never should have started in the first place.