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Locals Could Have to Put Up Money for Film, TV Projects

April 6, 2014 - 6:00pm

Local governments will have to chip in if the state is going to revive an incentives program intended to attract film and television production crews to Florida.

One senator warned that the proposal would turn out the lights on future film production efforts in the Sunshine State. But others on the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee said the local funding requirement is necessary if an incentives package is going to pass during this spring's legislative session.

The committee on Monday voted 7-1 to support a revamped effort (SPB 7128) to provide up to $50 million a year in tax credits that would require a 5 percent to 10 percent match from the local county or counties where production is expected to occur.

Also, "family friendly" productions that are free of "smoking, sex, nudity, or vulgar or profane language" could receive an additional 5 percent tax credit, while the Department of Economic Opportunitys Office of Film and Entertainment, which includes the Florida Film and Entertainment Advisory Council, would be moved under the wing of Enterprise Florida, the state's public-private business recruitment organization.

To appease backers of a similar House proposal (HB 983), which would provide up to $200 million a year in tax credits but hasn't moved forward, the requirement for local matching funds was added to an earlier proposal (SPB 7056) that received support from the Senate committee.

"Right now we are dead in the water unless we do something," said Committee Chairwoman Nancy Detert, R-Venice. "We need the language passed or we will continue to have zero in the program."

Counties that have historically been hot spots for film production would have to contribute 10 percent to the amount the state provides in tax credits. Counties that haven't been traditional filming locales would be required to provide a 5 percent match.

Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami, said the requirement for a match could be a deal-breaker for some counties that didn't have to contribute when the Legislature allotted $296 million for incentives under a prior funding program launched in 2010.

"We're throwing away an industry that has really grown beautifully in Florida," said Margolis, who cast the lone vote against the measure. "The state is giving tax incentives, not money, but when you're asking local governments to put up money, it's real money, and I think it's going to be chaotic."

The Florida Association of Counties has yet to take a stand on the change.

Davin Suggs, a lobbyist for the Florida Association of Counties, said large counties understand the need for the change, but are first working to get technical feedback on the potential impact.

"We like the program overall, we'd like to see this move forward and see it happen," Suggs said.

Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Royal Palm Beach, while supporting the measure, expressed concern that the local match would require film production companies to go through "more hoops" to get incentives.

Detert was quick to note there is a strong desire for companies to work in Florida, as the 2010 money was quickly doled out.

However, no new funding was allocated last year. And Gov. Rick Scott didn't include any additional money for the industry in his recommended spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Gus Corbella, chairman of the Florida Film and Entertainment Advisory Council and a lobbyist with Greenberg Traurig, said before the meeting that the state is already losing out to other states as it lacks tax credits.

"Our future as an entertainment capital and a state that is trying to grow this industry is in peril," Corbella said.

He noted that "American Horror Story," an FX television series, announced last month that its fourth season will be set at a carnival located in the Southeast Florida community of Jupiter in 1950.

However, the taping will occur in Louisiana.

"Florida stories are coming out of Hollywood and New York all the time, and what is really maddening is when you hear that this is a Florida-based story but we're going to have to film in North Carolina to make it look like Florida," Corbella said. "All that means is that local governments are not earning the revenue impacts from a production of that nature for six to eight months and the state of Florida is not earning the economic impact, much less the national and international exposure a production like that can bring."

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