Maryland threatens to seize ‘House of Cards’ equipment if it leaves state

By Eric Boehm | Watchdog.org

The back-room political shenanigans of “House of Cards,” every Washington, D.C., insider’s favorite show about the people they wish they were, have spilled into the real world.

A HOUSE BUILT ON TAX CREDITS: House of Cards, the popular Netflix series, has received $26 million in tax credits from Maryland.

The Netflix show is filmed in Maryland, thanks in part to about $26 million in tax credits the state has provided to production company Media Rights Capital for setting up shop there for the first two seasons. But unless the show gets more tax breaks for the upcoming third season, the producers have threatened to “break down our stage, sets and offices and set up in another state,” the Washington Post reported last week.

Oh well. Live by the tax credit, die by the tax credit, right?

After all, lots of states chase after film and television production with millions of dollars in tax credits, even if it is folly to do so.

Some lawmakers in Maryland decided to up the ante over the weekend by proposing legislation that would give the state the right to use eminent domain to seize the show’s production equipment if the show decides to move to another state.

The proposal from state Delegate William Frick, D-Montgomery, doesn’t specifically mention “House of Cards,” but the intention is pretty clear.

FRICK: State Del. William Frick takes inspiration from the villainous Frank Underwood. Wonder how his constituents feel about that?

“I literally thought: What is an appropriate Frank Underwood response to a threat like this?” Frick told the Washington Post, referring to House of Cards’ lead character, a conniving politician who lies, cheats and even murders to get what he wants (a great model for state lawmakers to emulate, of course).

It’s easy to laugh off this kind of blatant threat to abuse eminent domain laws — which are, of course, only meant to be used in “the public interest” like building a highway, not as a trump card in a political dispute over tax credits that the state Legislature created in the first place and now doesn’t want to hand out anymore — because it’s probably just meant as a way for this guy to get his name in the paper.

While lots of states throw millions of dollars at movie and television productions, surely Maryland would never be so thuggish as to actually seize someone else’s stuff over something as silly as their decision to move to another state, right?

Don’t be so sure.

Football fans are probably familiar with the infamous story of the Baltimore Colts moving to Indianapolis under cover of darkness. On the night of March 29, 1984, 15 moving trucks pulled up to team headquarters at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and by sunrise all the team’s possessions were on the way to Indianapolis.

The story is usually cited as an example of how awful then-team owner Jim Irsay was to the fans of Baltimore. His likeness still lies in an open casket in the back of a popular bar in the city.

DON'T LEAVE UNLESS THEY LET YOU: The Maryland state government has a history of threatening those who want to re-locate to another state.

DON’T LEAVE UNLESS THEY LET YOU: The Maryland state government has a history of threatening those who want to re-locate to another state.

But the real reason the team had to sneak out of state in the middle of the night?

The Colts were in a rush to get out of town because the Maryland Senate had just passed a bill saying the state had the right to seize the Colts under eminent domain,” wrote Jamison Hemsley of ESPN.com last week.

That’s not to suggest Irsay wasn’t an awful owner or the team wasn’t going to relocate anyway, but the over-aggressive Maryland Legislature made the move that forced Irsay’s hand.

It wouldn’t be a shock to see the same thing happen with “House of Cards,” which has supposedly brought in $250 million worth of revenue and 6,000 jobs to Maryland. Maybe this time the state government will learn a lesson about what happens when you threaten to steal other people’s stuff.

A warning to anyone living or working in Maryland: Better check with the bosses in Annapolis if you’re thinking about moving somewhere else.

Eric Boehm is a reporter for Watchdog.org and can be reached at EBoehm@Watchdog.org. Follow @WatchdogOrg and @EricBoehm87 on Twitter

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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