Tax watchdogs tear up Senate bill offering incentives to lure Hollywood projects to Florida

TALLAHASSEE – Tax credits of up to $ 2 million for film, television and digital productions received support from Senators on Monday as part of an effort to make Florida more attractive to the entertainment industry.

But as in the past, the Senate Trade and Tourism Committee’s 9-1 vote came after opposition from conservative Americans for Prosperity Florida, which maintains the problem is “corporate welfare.”

The proposal (SB 946) of Sen. Joe gruters, R-Sarasota, would create the Targeted High-Wage Generation Program, offering tax credits of up to $ 2 million for projects that provide a “high return” on investment and economic benefits to the state . Funders hope to make Florida more attractive than other states for productions.

“We don’t have to compete dollar for dollar, but we have to give them something,” said Gruters, who is also president of the Florida Republican Party. “And my goal for the last couple of years is to try to find a product that we can land and that we could generate business for.”

Jean Lux, executive director of Film Florida, said a fundraising program doesn’t have to be as lucrative or aggressive as other states because Florida is a low-tax state with a wide array of venues that features already have a solid production infrastructure.

“There has never been more content available to viewers, which means there has never been so much private money available to create that content,” Lux said. “Content creators are looking for places to produce and spend money, and we want to compete for those projects.”

Senator Tom wright, R-New Smyrna Beach, called the tax credit structure “a great way to protect our investments because they get them after completion.”

“We have movies produced all over the country that make you think they’re from Florida when they’re not,” Wright said.

However, Americans for Prosperity-Florida Policy Director Philippe Suderman questioned the “bad return” on investment and referred to an earlier entertainment incentive program.

“The previous program, which was allowed to expire in 2016, only got 43 cents of revenue back for every dollar the state spent,” Suderman said. “And a 2018 report from the Office of Economic and Demographic Research (of the Legislative Assembly) showed that the Florida entertainment industry’s financial incentive program generator generated a return on investment of just 18 cents. . “

An analysis of the proposal by Senate staff found that entertainment incentives have declined in popularity, with 31 states in 2018 offering some form of incentive, up from 44 in 2009. However, Georgia remains one of the most popular. generous, with a “tax credit program at the demand level by not imposing any limit on the tax credits that can be obtained.”

Florida has done little to fight neighboring states for entertainment productions since the legislature in 2010 allocated $ 296 million for film and television work.

This money was quickly allocated to 351 projects out of nearly 700 applicants.

A 2019 report from Tallahassee-based Florida TaxWatch estimated that, without a schedule, the state over the previous four years had lost more than 60 major film and television projects.

An almost identical proposal last year, sponsored by Gruters and Rep. Dana trabulsy, R-Fort Pierce, has died after gaining the support of a Senate committee.

Trabulsy is once again sponsoring the measure (HB 217) in the House, where he awaits an appearance before the subcommittee on tourism, infrastructure and energy. The annual legislative session begins Tuesday.

The goal of the Gruters proposal is “to broaden the impact of the entertainment industry, improve tourism and encourage more family-friendly productions” in Florida, according to an analysis of the proposal by Senate staff .

The program would be placed under the responsibility of the Film and Entertainment Commissioner in the Department of Economic Opportunities.

To be eligible, a film production would need to spend at least $ 1.5 million, while a TV show would need to spend at least $ 500,000 per episode. At least 60 percent of the crew are expected to come from Florida, and at least 70 percent of the production schedule is expected to take place in Florida.

Other requirements include agreeing to promote Florida tourism as part of the marketing effort, placing a “Filmed in Florida” or “Produced in Florida” logo in the end credits, and permission. for the state cinema commissioner to visit the production site with at least two guests.

Norman D. Briggs