Support for film industry still strong on Beacon Hill

But changes could be coming

by Jon Chesto
Quincy Patriot Ledger
October 5, 2009

It’s hard to get around Boston these days without running into a film crew or hearing about a movie shoot or a celebrity sighting. That’s one reason why I decided to write my latest column in The Patriot Ledger about an effort on Beacon Hill to give the state’s film tax credits a new level of scrutiny as part of a broader review of the state’s numerous tax incentives.

Film industry sources told me they don’t expect that legislative leaders will challenge the credits anytime in the near future, even though the Legislature briefly approved language suggested by the Patrick administration this past summer that would have significantly watered down the tax credit program. Lawmakers quickly wiped out that change – a $2 million cap on the amount that any film worker’s salary could count toward the state’s credits – before it could do any damage after industry reps explained that the change would scare away most big-budget flicks.

But the Patrick administration is under tremendous pressure due to an ongoing tax revenue shortfall (tax collections are down by about 10 percent in the first three months of the state’s current fiscal year). so I wouldn’t be surprised if the administration attempts to revive a similar measure in the future.

The Legislature will likely have the final say on this. Senate President Therese Murray has been a strong supporter of the industry. That’s not surprising: She could have a year-round film studio become the biggest private employer in Plymouth, her hometown, if the Plymouth Rock Studios project stays on track.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo seems supportive, but he didn’t want to commit to not watering down the program when I recently asked him about it. He’s waiting to discuss the issue with his revenue committee chairman, Rep. Jay Kaufman, who in turn is waiting for a revenue subcommittee to make its analysis about whether the state is getting an adequate bang for its buck from this and other tax credit programs. That report should be out by early next year in time for the next legislative budget debate.

In the film program’s first three years, the state doled out $166 million in credits. Meanwhile, the tax incentives helped generate more than $300 million in direct economic activity in Massachusetts – or more than $600 million when you count what the movie stars and other out-of-state film workers earned while they were working here.

The program remains a popular one, with a recent poll showing that about two-thirds of Massachusetts residents support it.

Even with the program’s successful track record and the high-profile nature of the industry, I’m not going to assume that the film production credits program will remain untouched. Certainly, the 25-percent credit rate for film productions is one of the most generous economic incentives provided by the state to any industry here. If the state revenue outlook doesn’t improve soon, the movie industry could become a tempting target for savings.

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