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Mitch Perry Report for 3.11.15 — Film incentives bill takes first step in Tally

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Like it or not, Hollywood productions, like sports owners, have been able to play cities and states against each other for years to get the best deal for themselves.

Folks in Tampa Bay are all too familiar with getting burned by giving welfare to rich folks. You don’t have to have lived in the area to know how searing the 1996 CIT was. That was the tax that went to fund schools, cultural amenities like Lowry Park Zoo and the Florida Aquarium, and of course, the construction of Raymond James Stadium. The measure bitterly divided the community, passing by a 53-47 percent margin.

The sour taste from that vote lingers 19 years later.

It was right around that time that Hollywood producers of film and television productions began filming in Vancouver, Canada, because of tax incentives that the Canadian government provided. That led the arms race in other states to follow, and some of the biggest have been in the Southeast, such as Georgia and Louisiana.

Florida has been slow to the party. But when they finally did get around to creating such a tax incentives package five years ago, they burned through the $269 million allowed for six years in less than half that time

The creative arts industries in Florida have been calling desperately for Tallahassee to replenish that fund, but that effort has fallen short the past couple of years.

But it’s back again this year.

Yesterday the Florida Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee unanimously passed Venice Republican Nancy Detert’s proposal to replenish the tax incentive program for film/TV/and digital productions, though there’s not a firm dollar figure attached just yet.  As the Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s Jeremy Wallace reports, Detert’s bill would make the film tax credits essentially a rebate program; filmmakers who prove they hired people in Florida and spent money in the state would get tax rebates at the end of their project.

Some folks — especially Americans for Prosperity — have been lobbying Tallahassee legislators hard this session to reject the proposal, and they’ve cited studies showing that Florida doesn’t get anything close to our return on investment. (They’re also lobbying against a proposal to provide money to four sports stadiums this session. They may be having more success there.)

One government agency very supportive of the proposal is the Hillsborough County Commission. They’ve got their fingers crossed that they can lure Oscar-award winning director Ben Affleck to film Dennis Lehane’s best-seller, Live By Night, in Ybor City. The novel is set there, and Affleck and Lehane say they want the film to be shot here. But only with those tax incentives…

In other news…

It took newspaper reporters to unearth the lack of care at our prisons here in Florida, but give props to GOP state Sen. Greg Evers for giving a damn now that he’s aware of it. Yesterday the Senate Criminal Justice Committee heard firsthand from some of those officials who have themselves come under retaliation simply by reporting such incidents.

Statistics indicate that crime continues to go down, though the number of prisoners in the DOC system isn’t necessarily reflecting that change.

That report over the weekend that Rick Scott put a kibosh on anyone at DEP from using the terms “climate change” and “global warming” isn’t going away. Yesterday the San Francisco-based NextGen Climate political action committee sent out a statement demanding to know where fellow Floridians Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio come down on the issue.

And a Mason-Dixon poll says that Marco Rubio is looking good in his bid for re-election for the U.S. Senate in Florida next year. And if he doesn’t give it a run, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater looks pretty impressive as well, though the poll only has the two Republicans squaring off against South Florida Democrats Patrick Murphy and Debbie Wasserman Schultz in imagined 2016 scenarios.

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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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