The HBO comedy "Veep" has been a big success for its network, its producers and its stars including Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who plays the title character, a former Maryland senator and presidential candidate propelled into the vice presidency and now the presidency. It's won critical acclaim and has been tapped for a fifth season by the cable network.

That it has been produced in Maryland along with another hit, the Netflix political drama "House of Cards," has not only been a source of pride for many but has translated into thousands of jobs — even more when you add the local firms hired to feed, house, transport or otherwise provide products or services to "Veep." (The Sun, incidentally, was an indirect beneficiary in past years when it rented space to "House of Cards.") It's been a win-win for all involved, right?


Well, yes and no. This week, we learned that "Veep" could potentially gain $6.5 million in tax credits if the production moves to California. Representatives of the series say it hasn't been decided whether the show will head west, but that sounds suspiciously like they are waiting for Gov. Larry Hogan to come up with a better offer.

See, that's how the tax credit game is played. "House of Cards" shook down Mr. Hogan's predecessor, and now it's his (and "Veep's") turn. The entertainment industry wants states bidding against each other before settling on the most lucrative deal. One can hardly blame TV and film production companies for that strategy, as it's worked beautifully for them in the past. These are attractive jobs, the companies hire a lot of local residents and the whole Hollywood patina has a tendency to put stars in the eyes of elected leaders.

Count us as among those who would love to see "Veep" stay in the former General Electric plant in Columbia where it does most of its filming. But ultimately, this isn't a referendum on a terrifically funny TV show or on Ms. Louis-Dreyfus, who just seems to get better and better in the role. It's a question of dollars and cents and whether the amount taxpayers fork over to keep those jobs makes them worthwhile compared to other job-creating tax credits that could be offered other employers.

Because by that standard, these TV and film jobs have been found wanting. As the report issued last year by the state's Department of Legislative Services concluded, the return on investment is not especially good. The tax credit essentially underwrites about one-quarter of a production company's payroll yet to only modest lasting effect — these are not like manufacturing jobs; they can skip town quickly, as "Veep" may ultimately choose to do.

That's not to suggest Governor Hogan shouldn't try to retain "Veep," it's more that the state has to be prudent about how much money it's willing to shovel their way. As Frank Underwood of "House of Cards" has said, you have to "pay attention to the fine print — it's far more important than the selling price." In three seasons, "Veep" has vacuumed up $13.9 million in tax credits but could be gone tomorrow. Rare is the employer that can pull up stakes quite that fast — or completely.

Should the fictional Selina Meyer and her crew head to sunnier climes, Mr. Hogan will no doubt suffer some criticism. He is, after all, supposed to be the "business friendly" governor, the Republican who ran for office complaining about private sector jobs leaving the state for better opportunities elsewhere. His Democratic predecessor, now running to be the actual president, brought those jobs to Maryland. Surely, there's no shortage of irony here.

But Mr. Hogan also ran as the fiscally responsible chief executive, and so the question is not whether "Veep" should be allowed to leave but how much taxpayer subsidy is reasonable to retain it. And just as importantly, might that subsidy be better invested in jobs (in biotech or cyber security to name two attractive alternatives) that will stay here and not require a perpetual handout?

Whatever that amount should be, the General Assembly left the final decision to Governor Hogan, and we hope he won't up the ante, given the DLS findings. Perhaps "Veep" will stay (there is a cost and inconvenience to moving) or maybe the production company will leave for greener pastures. Whatever the choice, Mr. Hogan's position must be clear-eyed and rational instead of the kind of one-sided and fatuous political deals that serve as plot points in these very shows.