Crunch time to refill film incentives wallet
With fewer than two weeks left in the 2014 legislative session, it’s crunch time for efforts to reinvigorate Florida’s film tax incentive program, and near the end of a statewide push that drew the state’s film industry together.
To make Florida more competitive with states like Georgia, Louisiana and North Carolina, the Legislature is considering Senate Bill 1734, which would make $300 million in tax credits available over six years to productions that film in the state. Extending the program until 2020 is key, the film industry has said, because predictability is crucial to attracting major projects.
As the race nears the finish line, a new wrinkle has emerged: bill sponsor Nancy Detert of Venice has added a provision that would require counties hosting productions to come up with a cash match – 10% for Miami-Dade, Broward and Orange counties and 5% for counties deemed underutilized – to the incentives for which each project applies.
“Underutilized” means any county that didn’t see productions rack up $500,000 in qualified expenditures over the past two fiscal years. Ms. Detert said the match made her bill more palatable to the House, where it was stuck for a time. There is also a provision that sets aside $10 million of each year’s $50 million in tax credits for underutilized communities, an effort to spread the wealth of productions throughout the state.
While the bill could be passed, amended or even allowed to die before the session ends May 2, Gov. Rick Scott’s office has been cooperative, said Sandy Lighterman, Miami-Dade film commissioner. “We need a funded program,” she said, “and the governor’s office has indicted that they would look favorably on the bill that comes to their desk.” Fear of the governor’s veto last year led to no new bills being filed for film tax incentives, insiders say.
In 2010, a Jobs for Florida bill designated $242 million over five years for tax credits for film studios and other production companies. By March 2011, $227 million of the credits had been committed, with the majority going to so-called high impact television shows like “Magic City,’ “The Glades” and “Burn Notice.” Now, all of the incentives have been spoken for, with projects like “Hoke” and “Ballers” scooping up credits that returned to the queue when four high-impact shows ended.
The film incentives come in the form of tax credits based on the scope of the production, number of local people hired, season in which filming occurs and several other variables. The credits can be sold at the end of the term if the production doesn’t need the equivalent tax relief.
But there are limits on the Florida incentives, while some states have no cap. The caps are needed because Florida is fiscally conservative and is required to balance its budget each year, legislators say.
On March 25 and 26, spurred on by the Film Florida advocacy group, more than 150 television, film and digital media industry stakeholders converged on the state capital for the Rally in Tally. “We spoke with a singular voice: We need to fund the tax credit program, so we can grow the industry,” Ms. Lighterman said.
“I am proud to have led this effort that brought our industry together,” she added. “This has been a statewide effort, from Pensacola to Jacksonville, down the Space Coast to Key West and back up to the Panhandle.”