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Entertainment Industry Economic Development Act Ready for Full House Vote

By Gina Jordan

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-893709.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – It's not the glamour of show business that's behind a push to provide tax breaks to the film and entertainment industry in Florida. It's the jobs and revenue the industry generates. A bill that's ready for a vote on the House floor would change the current incentive program to lure more productions to the state.

It's called the Entertainment Industry Economic Development Act. It's a tax credit program that seeks to level the playing field for Florida to once again compete in film and digital media production. Representative Stephen Precourt, Republican of Orlando, is a sponsor.

"It's an economic stimulus bill that will work now, at the same time providing long term incentive for permanent jobs as well, builds on Florida's legacy in the film and entertainment business, and helps us enter the new media age as well. We need to do this now because of our economy. The jobs are leaving the state. Our neighbors are having to go to other states to provide for their families."

This bill converts the state's old cash grant program into a tax credit, and broadens the eligible productions beyond films to include digital media, video games and visual effects. Representative Kevin Ambler, Republican of Tampa, calls the proposal a proven economic engine that will help restore the state's economy, while bringing in clean, green jobs.

"It puts us back into the competitive game both in terms of the method that we use, which is a transferable tax credit, which is consistent with what the other top states are doing and what the industry expects, and the tax credit is important as a vehicle because it provides consistency and continuity of the funding which the industry needs that crosses over fiscal year lines so they can get their productions done timely."

Ambler says more than forty states have some form of film incentive, because they've figured out it equals cash in the coffers. He cited New Mexico, which raised their film tax credit program from 15-percent to 25-percent in 2006, generating nine-thousand jobs and nearly half a billion dollars in earnings. Representative Jennifer Carroll, Republican of Jacksonville, is also a sponsor.

"Almost every member's district will be impacted in a positive economic way because the digital media industry touches almost every district in which we represent. These digital media companies employ anywhere from one to twenty employees that are permanent."

The measure would have no effect on the next state budget, because no tax credits will be redeemable until July of 2011. A production company would only receive the credit after all payments are verified. Other key provisions include an annual cap on total credits, starting with $55-million for the coming fiscal year.

"In 2003, we were ranked third in the country with regards to film production behind New York and California. Now we're not even on the list. Tampa Bay region in itself annually received $12-million for the impact for the film industry."

Former Film Commissioner Paul Sirmons is now an independent filmmaker. He produced a three-million dollar faith-based movie in Central Florida last summer called "Letters to God" that will hit theatres next month.

"The company that made the film, Possibility Pictures, is based in Orlando, and it has the money in the bank for two more pictures in the same budget range. We hope to make those pictures in Florida, but if we don't have an incentive, as Representative Ambler pointed out, there are too many other states offering incentives that it would be bad business for us to turn that down."

Chris Ranung works behind the scenes in craft services, spending between 12-hundred and 15-hundred dollars a day in the communities where filming takes place.

"I always think of the countless little shopkeepers, the coffee shops, the delis, the pizza shops, the candy stores, the donut stores -- I know all the best in Florida -- where I spend my money. Those people thank you, too, because if you pass this good legislation, I'll be able to continue buying all those donuts and all that pizza and spending money where it needs to be spent."

Representative Precourt helped amend wording that suggested nontraditional family values should be avoided as subject matter. Advocacy groups like Florida Together were concerned that the initial proposal would have meant higher profits for producers who did not depict gay, lesbian or even single-parent families in their stories.

"One of the issues that's been out there that this dealt with is the family-friendly clarification language. I just want to make it very clear to everyone that this was never meant to be exclusionary or divisive. We have addressed this concern in the strike-all and made needed fixes to the bill language. I've worked closely with the entertainment industry on this legislation and commit to continuing to do so as necessary."

The House Finance and Tax Council voted unanimously to approve the bill, which now goes to the full House for a vote. The measure would expire in 2015, unless the program is reenacted by the Legislature.