TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – An effort to revamp the state’s approach to attracting film and television production is moving forward in the House and Senate, after Republican lawmakers openly panned the plan’s most vocal critic.
The measure (SB 1046), which in part would rank production-company proposals before offering tax credits, received unanimous support Thursday from the Senate Transportation, Tourism & Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee.
“It’s really not incentives,” argued Sen. Nancy Detert, a Venice Republican who has been working for a couple of years to revive efforts to lure film and television production to Florida. “We do not pay people to come here and make a movie. What we do is after they come here, and spend money, they get a tax credit at the end.”
The vote came two days after the House Finance & Tax Committee voted 12-5 in support of a companion measure (HB 451).
The proposal is focused on revamping the structure of the program. It will be up to the appropriations committees in the House and Senate to decide if any funding should be set aside, said Rep. Mike Miller, a Winter Park Republican who is carrying the House version.
The measure has cleared two Senate committees. The approval Tuesday was the first for the proposal in the House, which is expected to be more critical of the package.
At both stops, lawmakers expressed displeasure with a flood of emails attacking the proposal from the conservative-advocacy group Americans for Prosperity-Florida, which has portrayed the state’s film and TV program as a giveaway of “taxpayers’ hard-earned money to Hollywood executives.”
“I hope you’re getting paid a lot of money to show up to these meetings and say meaningless things,” Detert told Americans for Prosperity lobbyist Skylar Zander. “Obviously you’re for prosperity for yourself and not other people in the industry. We have over 100,000 people in the film industry in the state of Florida. We have multiple film schools where we educated these kids. They would like to now work in the state they were probably born in. You people serve absolutely no purpose.”
Detert’s comments came on the heels of House Finance & Tax Chairman Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, calling out Americans for Prosperity on Tuesday for statements that there are tax credits in the bill.
“If we have to put money in, I don’t think that there is any virtue in standing on principle that we ought to have a system that doesn’t work,” Gaetz said.
Melissa Fausz of Americans for Prosperity acknowledged that the bill doesn’t allocate a specific amount of money for tax credits but said that could change due to a proposal to establish a Division of Film and Entertainment within Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private economic development agency.
“Why would you create that structure and then therefore not fund it and put money into it?” Fausz asked.
Fueling the opposition has been a study released earlier this year by the Florida Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, which found the state gets 43 cents back for every dollar awarded in tax incentives to productions.
The state has awarded $296 million in incentives since 2010.
Backers of the film and television industry say the study’s numbers are misunderstood as it only calculates tax receipts the government gets back, primarily through sales taxes.
Another problem with the current program is that incentives were awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, which quickly depleted the fund.
Since the program was set up, 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 established more open-ended funding pools for their industry incentive programs.
The new program would create two pots from which applicants could apply for credits and would limit awards to up to 30 percent of the production costs. It would seek to encourage filming in counties that historically are little-used by the industry and would move the state’s governor-appointed film and entertainment commissioner from the Department of Economic Opportunity to Enterprise Florida.
The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.