Stop handouts to 'Nashville'

"Nashville," the ABC television show featuring Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere as adversarial county music singers, has provided Nashville, the city, with a healthy bump of notoriety. It goes without saying, however, that the drama hasn't done much to put Chattanooga -- or the rest of the Volunteer State -- at the forefront of viewers' minds.

Still, despite getting no economic or tourism benefit as a result of the primetime soap opera, state officials are forcing Chattanooga-area Tennessee residents to pick up part of the tab for the cost of making the show.

In June, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development announced that it was bribing the rich companies that produce "Nashville" -- Lionsgate, ABC Studios and Gaylord Entertainment -- with $7.5 million of state taxpayers' money in exchange for filming parts of the show in Music City.

The $7.5-million payoff was given as a reimbursable grant intended to pay for the production's expenses related to filming in the state -- including everything from location scouting and film crews to the gourmet spread at the craft services table. (Yes, state taxpayers are paying for millionaire actors to graze on lavish veggie trays.)

That hefty handout will just be the beginning if the millionaire welfare recipients behind the show have their way.

Earlier this month, ABC announced it was picking up "Nashville" for a full season, which means filming an additional nine episodes over the coming months. The show's producer, Loucas George, used that bit of good news as an opportunity to stick out his hand like a bum on the street and beg for even more money from hard-working Tennesseans to help subsidize his catty TV show.

Currently, the state forces taxpayers to cover up to 32 percent of the cost of filming the show. Tennessee lawmakers recently capped film and television production incentives -- including grants and tax credits -- to 25 percent of in-state filming costs. George wants "Nashville" to continue receiving the old 32 percent rate. If that happens, and the show finishes its current season as planned and is picked up for a second full season, state taxpayers will shell out $17.9 million in subsidies to the show over the next two years -- and the spending may not end there.

George and the production companies are now holding Gov. Bill Haslam and economic development commissioner Bill Hagerty hostage, insinuating that unless the state gives the show even larger handouts, they'll pack up and film the show elsewhere, according to the Nashville Business Journal.

That would be the best thing that could happen for folks here in Chattanooga and in other areas of the state that don't receive any particular benefit from shelling out our money to have a show filmed in Nashville.

Unfortunately, if recent comments by the state's economic development commissioner, Bill Hagerty, are any indication, Tennessee's taxpayers should prepare to hold on to their wallets. Hagerty seems to have taken George's bait hook, line and sinker, admitting more incentives are possible and saying, "I think [the show has] had a very positive impact on the state."

Apparently it hasn't dawned on Hagerty that, since the name of the show is "Nashville" and it is set in the city, it'll serve to promote Music City even if they film it in Uganda. As a result, there's no need to be bullied into throwing Tennesseans' tax dollars at George and the rest of the investors behind the show.

If Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and other Music City officials want to use Davidson County taxpayers' money to bribe the rich folks behind "Nashville" to film the show there, fine. But when state officials use state tax money taken from people who don't get any benefit from the show, it's offensive, irresponsible and outrageous.

Haslam, Hagerty and the rest of Tennessee's government leaders should yell "cut" on the state's corporate welfare handouts to "Nashville." Even without bribing the producers with millions of Tennesseans' hard-earned dollars, the show will go on.