Thursday, March 12, 2015

State legislators trying to revive state's depleted film and TV incentive program

Posted By on Thu, Mar 12, 2015 at 4:02 PM

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A group of lawmakers wants to remake the state's film and television incentive program so that the industry hires and builds more in Florida.

Just don't call the sequel to the state's depleted film, television and video-game incentive program an incentive program.

"It's really the wrong word," Sen. Nancy Detert, a Venice Republican who is a motion-picture enthusiast and the sponsor of the Senate measure (SB 1046), said Wednesday after a news conference on the issue.

"The real word is rebate," Detert continued. "You come here, you make a movie, you stay in hotels, you hire people, you buy food, and you turn in your receipts. And we give you a rebate on the taxes you made. If you didn't expend any dollars you don't get any of ours."

Detert's proposal was unanimously backed Tuesday by the Commerce and Tourism Committee and must get past two more committees before reaching the Senate floor.

A tougher audience could await in the House, which has been more skeptical of such incentive programs.

The film, TV and video-game effort is to extend a 2010 package in which the Legislature allotted $296 million for the industry. That money was quickly designated to 351 different projects out of nearly 700 applicants. No additional funding has been approved, making many in the state's film and television industry worry that Florida is losing production to states such as Georgia and Louisiana, which have upped their industry incentive programs.

Detert's program would create two pots of money from which applicants could apply for credits. It would seek to encourage filming in counties that historically are little used by the industry and would move the state's film commissioner from the Department of Economic Opportunity to Enterprise Florida, the state's public-private economic development agency.

Detert called the proposal an improvement on her failed 2014 proposal that would have made about $200 million a year in tax credits available to production crews.

The Revenue Estimating Conference has yet to place a fiscal impact on the current proposal, and Detert declined to make an estimate on Wednesday.

Rep. Mike Miller, R-Winter Park, hopes to premiere his version of the film and television proposal (HB 451) before the House Economic Development & Tourism Subcommittee in the next couple of weeks.

Miller, who joined Detert at the press conference, which also featured actors portraying industrialist Henry Flagler and explorer Juan Ponce de León, has been tweaking his bill to satisfy the House subcommittee's chairman, Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami.

Artiles "wants to make sure we're getting people in a high-value way, he doesn't want us to do first-come, first-served, to hand out credits willy nilly," Miller said. "And he's right. If we're going to spend taxpayer money on anything, even if it's a reward, it better be as high impact as possible."

As expected, the proposal has support from business groups, the Florida League of Cities, the Florida Association of Counties, the Motion Picture Association of America and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

The most vocal criticism has come from conservative-advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, which claims the proposal "can't be justified in a free market economy."

"What this bill and its predecessor, the existing entertainment-industry program, serve to do is elevate one industry over another business in the state through the exercise of law, which should be impartial," said Melissa Fausz of Americans for Prosperity.

Both Miller and Detert disputed Fausz' contention.

"There is a different free market principle at play and that is that the states get to compete and we are in a competitive market with other states," Miller said. "And right now I believe we can beat those other states. Some of them are doing irrational incentive-based programs that cannot compete for the long-term."

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