Florida film officials try 3rd time for new tax incentive program



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MIAMI — Proponents of Florida's film industry are back in Tallahassee for the third year in a row, trying to get funding for a new tax incentive program.

After failing to find the necessary support in the Legislature the past two years, industry officials remain optimistic that they'll get a new program before this year's session ends Friday.

"I think that the industry here in the state of Florida has worked very diligently over the last two and a half years to lay the foundation as far as educating our legislators about what this investment program is all about," Film Florida President Michelle Hillery said.

The current program, which was supposed to run from 2010 to 2016, has already used up the $296 million in tax credits it was allocated and has been suspended.

"It has basically taken us out of the game," said Gus Corbella, a lobbyist and chairman of the Florida Film and Entertainment Advisory Council. "For two years, the state of Florida has not had any credits to be able to dole out."

Florida is primarily losing film productions to Georgia, Louisiana and New York, Corbella said.

"That's all work that's seeping out of Florida and going to other states," Corbella said. "And that's a real economic tragedy."

Hillery said that Florida's existing infrastructure and desirability as filming location mean the state's incentive program doesn't even necessarily need to be as generous as other states.

"We don't have to be better than. We don't have to offer more," Hillery said. "We just have to remain competitive."

Bills for a new program have been moving through the House and Senate (HB 451 and SB 1046). No dollar amounts have been included yet, but a new proposal would move away from the first-come, first-served nature of the old program and establish six-month application periods. The state's film office would then rank proposed projects in a given period and dole out credits based on factors such as number of state residents hired, in-state expenditures, duration of filming, capital investments and local financial support.

Sen. Nancy Detert — the Senate bill's sponsor — continues to push the program. Corbella said he expects to see more movement in the Senate and that the House will likely following the Senate's lead. One potential threat is that a new incentive program could get lost as the two houses continue to wrangle over proposed budgets, Corbella said.

Some critics say the state should eliminate any incentives that reward certain businesses with taxpayer help. The conservative group Americans for Prosperity has been a vocal opponent of all incentive programs, including the film credit program.

"Any program that's going to give one business an advantage over another, we find to be an inappropriate use of the state's dollars," Florida chapter spokesman Andres Malave said.

A report from state auditors released in January concluded that the previous tax credit program hadn't generated the windfall some proponents claimed. Auditors noted that many of the Floridians employed by the industry were extras and stand-ins who worked part-time.

But Corbella maintains that film and especially television productions create jobs in the state.

"They (the auditors) don't necessarily have a complete grasp on how to truly measure the impact of this industry," Corbella said. "They're trying to count apples with an orange calculator."

Corbella pointed to a study released last year by the Motion Picture Association of America. It concluded that Florida's current film incentive program supported 87,870 jobs, $2.3 billion in labor income, and $7.2 billion in economic spending across the state, both through production spending and induced tourism, over the previous four years.

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