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Film tax incentive bill again dies on cutting-room floor in Tallahassee

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A sizable percentage of the 100,000 or so entertainment industry professionals in Florida feel let down this week. The Legislature once again refused to include money in the state’s $80 billion budget for tax incentives to lure Hollywood to film in the Sunshine State.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed,” said Gus Corbella, chairman of the Florida Film and Entertainment Advisory Council and the director of government law and policy for Greenberg Traurig.

The regular legislative session ended this spring without lawmakers getting a chance to vote up or down on the tax incentives bill sponsored by Venice state Sen. Nancy Detert and Winter Park House Republican Jeff Miller.

That legislation would have given the state film commissioner increased ability to grant money quickly and the power to determine the level of quality and economic impact of the projects that receive state money. Corbella said that with the session beginning earlier than usual, next January, he hoped lawmakers could provide at least $10 million during the special session to keep the tax incentives plan alive through the current fiscal year .

However, they were able to find funding for more than $300 million in local projects late Monday night.  Film incentives weren’t part of that 11th-hour binge.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 39 states had some type of film-incentive program existing in 2014. Florida did not come to the party with a substantial incentive package until 2010, setting aside about $296 million. But that package ran dry by 2014, putting great weight the past two years on the Legislature to approve a new plan to keep Florida competitive with Southern states such as Louisiana and Georgia, prospering in recent years with Hollywood productions.

A majority of lawmakers in Tallahassee, though, didn’t buy potential economic impact derived from such a program. Opposition was led by Americans for Prosperity, which aired several radio ads linking such a plan to subsidies for sports stadiums, a decidedly unpopular public expenditure these days.

“I think we want every possible industry to come into the state of Florida,” Andres Malave said. “But when an industry’s business model is kind of transient and relies on where they can get the best tax deal, that’s kind of a recipe for disaster.”

“Generally speaking, we don’t think that these sort of incentives are a core role of government,” Malave said. “And so it’s a good thing that the Legislature focused on returning over $400 million to taxpayers so they can spend that money on their own, instead of on an industry that simply just relies on these tax credits, unfortunately.”

Although officials dismiss the power of AFP’s lobbying efforts, most states still offer such incentives. But there’s an increasing backlash about such subsidies, with some states putting additional restrictions on such incentives in recent years. Legislative chambers in Alaska, Michigan and Massachusetts have all had votes in the past year to reduce or outright eliminate such tax breaks.

But in California, the home of the entertainment industry, the state Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown agreed last year to triple funding to $330 million, as lawmakers feared that parts of the industry are abandoning that state too often.

The failure to pass such a measure this year may doom the much-heralded film adaptation of the Dennis Lehane-penned Ybor City-based novel, Live By Night, with Oscar award-winning director Ben Affleck signed up to star and direct the picture.

Dale Gordon, Hillsborough County’s film commissioner, was unavailable for comment Wednesday, but she has previously said that the Affleck picture could not be filmed in Tampa without state incentives.

Meanwhile, Tony Armer, the Pinellas County film commissioner, said a certain project with an “A-list actor and A-list director” — attached to a film project that was written to take place in St. Petersburg with major studio backing — is not coming to the Bay area now without the state incentives.

Armer said that contractually he is not allowed to identify the project. He did say he is trying to offer the producers the type of local incentives that Hillsborough County used to lure the producers of The Infiltrator, a Hollywood production starring Bryan Cranston that filmed scenes in the Bay area for one week in April.

Hillsborough County Commissioners passed a resolution in 2014 authorizing $250,000 to Good Films Ltd., the producers of The Infiltrator. This year, both the Hillsborough and Pinellas County Commissions authorized $100,000 to lure the producers of Tim Burton‘s latest film, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, to film scenes in both counties.

Archer said the AFP’s spin that such tax incentives are nothing but a subsidy for wealthy Hollywood producers has hurt the cause to pass a tax incentive package, but that it’s 100 percent inaccurate.

“For every scene that you see (in a film), there’s 100 people standing behind the scene, so if AFP is saying you’re giving money to Hollywood, they’re actually taking money and food out of mouths of Floridians is what they’re actually doing,” he said.

Another arrow that AFP had in their quiver was a report published in January by the Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research, which said since the state’s tax incentive program began in 2010, only 43 cents in tax revenue is returned for every dollar of tax credits used.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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