By Ed Baker
GateHouse News Service
February 18, 2010
Weymouth — Local officials fear that Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposal to scale back a tax credit for movie producers to make films in Massachusetts would set back plans for the construction of a $300 million motion picture studio complex at the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station.
“I disagree with the governor wholeheartedly,” Town Council Vice President Patrick O’Connor said on Feb. 17. “Now is not the time to take away tax credits from an industry in Massachusetts that will create jobs for our residents.”
Patrick is proposing to cap a $125 million incentive program for movie producers to film in Massachusetts at $55 million to help close a $2.7 billion deficit in the state budget for fiscal year 2011, which begins July 1.
Lawmakers created the tax credit program in 2005 to encourage motion picture production in the Bay State. A University of Massachusetts report declared that the state ranks high among the growing locations for film and television show production.
“Employment in film and television production has increased in Massachusetts during a period when total state employment has been on the decline,” said the U-Mass Boston summary contained in a State House News Service report on Feb. 11. “There is also evidence that some of this job growth has helped to offset job losses in particularly hard hit trades like construction and transportation, as workers from these sectors have found work in film and television production.”
O’Connor said if the tax credit for producers is reduced, it would discourage production firms from making movies in Massachusetts and the construction of studios.
“If producers don’t get the tax credit to make movies here, why would a company want to come in here and build a studio?” he asked. “In a day and age when most manufacturing jobs are being down overseas, this is not the time to turn away industry from our state.”
International Studio Group, a California based firm, plans to build a campus style production company with 10 studios and a 14-screen movie theater called SouthField Studios at the base.
The construction is expected to require 3,000 people to be employed.
International Studio expects to hire 750 workers to assist with movie production at SouthField Studios on the soundstages that will be built on the northern tier of the base.
The firm also plans to construct a restaurant and a specialty store and have studio-lot streets with a colonial flavor that reflects historical sections of Boston.
The construction of SouthField Studios is included in a 14-year renovation plan for the base by LNR Property Corp., which owns the land where the soundstages will be built.
State Rep. Ronald Mariano, D-Quincy, said that he was disappointed to hear Patrick is proposing to cap the tax credit for movie producers.
“We have got to make sure the tax credit stays in place because that is what is bringing the movie industry here,” Mariano said.
He said that Michigan, New Mexico, and Connecticut are offering tax credits to movie producers and it is important for Massachusetts to offer the same to encourage continued film production in the state.
“Massachusetts is hot right now for movie production,” Mariano said. “People want to film here. We should take advantage of this, but we are choking it.”
State Sen. Robert Hedlund, R-Weymouth, said that he does not favor granting tax credits to a specific industry or group, but opposes Patrick’s proposal to remove the current benefit for movie producers.
“We should not cap it or change the rules after it is in place,” Hedlund said.
He argued that capping the tax credit would be unfair because this would place a financial burden on a production company that came into the state to enjoy the benefit.
“What message would that send to other industries when we make a commitment and then break the commitment?” Hedlund asked.
LNR spokesman William Ryan said that International Studios Group is still proceeding with its plans to construct the movie studios despite Patrick’s proposal to cap the tax credit.
“Our partners at ISG ore monitoring the situation very carefully,” he said. “They are comfortable about moving forward.”
O’Connor said that he will ask councilors in a proposed resolution on March 1 to have local lawmakers oppose reducing the tax credit for movie producers,
“We don’t have enough industries in Massachusetts that create jobs with the pay scales of $45,000 to $80,000,” he said. “This is not just a tax credit for Hollywood producers, it is a tax credit for the people of Weymouth who would have a job in the film industry. This is more than giving a tax credit to a millionaire film producer. There is a trickle down effect. It creates jobs.”
Councilor at Large Michael Molisse said that reducing the tax credit would be uninviting to movie producers who are already in Massachusetts.
“It would put a sour taste in the mouths of producers,” he said. “We don’t want that. We don’t want them to go away. If we remove the (tax) incentive, they will move on. It is easy for them to do so.”
Chris O’Donnell, a film industry official and founding member of the Massachusetts Production Coalition, urged Patrick to not cut the tax credit.
“While we emphasize with the governor’s need to identify revenue to fill the budget gap, we are concerned that the proposed $50 million cap on the credit will drive the film and television industry to another state,” said O’Donnell in a State House News Service report. “The benefits of the credit-jobs creation and building the industry’s infrastructure far outweigh its cost.”
I’m going to go out on a limb and agree with Republican Hedlund for once and say that they should not change the tax credit as is. In fact, give some tax relief to other businesses as well, if it will bring them to town. But here’s the funny part, let’s not beleive for one minute that the movie studio that was to start construction at Southfield last autumn isn’t here because of the ‘threat’ of the Governor’s tax cap. They’re not here because they see a whole lotta nothing going on over there. If those in charge of Southfield got as creative in attracting business as they have in making excuses for their inactivity, the movie studio would be close to completion and producing movies and revenue for the surrounding communities.