MARCH 24, 2010

The film industry easily survived a challenge in the House Wednesday to tax breaks that opponents say are giveaways but which supporters claim are necessary inducements for industry jobs in Massachusetts.

Efforts to pass a pair of proposals scaling back industry tax breaks, an idea that Gov. Deval Patrick supports as part of overall budget-balancing plans, won only 10 and 15 votes in the House after lengthy debate.

Patrick had proposed capping the tax credits to $50 million in fiscal 2011. Critics of the film tax credits had proposed limiting them to $7 million, the same level they were capped at in 2006 before lawmakers voted to expand the program.

One of those critics, Rep. Matthew Patrick, came to the verge of tears as he slammed his colleagues for supporting the credits. “What message are we sending to the 400 mental health workers we laid off? That Hollywood is better than they are? That those people who dedicate their lives to this commonwealth aren’t as good?” he shouted. “Think about it.”

But Patrick found himself outnumber by members like Rep. Paul McMurtry, who, in his first-ever speech on the House floor, said “thousands of people” in Massachusetts depend on the movie industry to provide for their families.

“Do not bring Massachusetts back to the days of silent films,” he said. McMurtry, who owns a Dedham cinema, said some constituents offered their support to him on the condition that he keep his theater open.

Proponents claimed the film tax credit has generated half a billion dollars of economic activity, drawing tourism, filling hotels and providing free marketing of Massachusetts in the films shot here. Rep. Ronald Mariano described actress Sandra Bullock telling a morning TV audience about spending a summer on Gloucester.

But critics said much of the economic activity simply subsidizes rich actors’ salaries and fails to generate enough revenue to pay for itself. The debate, which lasted just shy of three hours, also featured comments from Reps. Carl Sciortino, Steven D’Amico, Jay Barrows, Brian Wallace, Jay Kaufman and John Keenan.

Defending the tax breaks, Keenan said film star Leonardo DiCaprio will probably pay more in income taxes in Massachusetts than the Salem rep will pay in his life.

Pilots ready for takeoff
State House rejects caps on film tax breaks



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