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Film Industry Wants Another Shot At Incentives

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - The film and television industry in Florida wants lawmakers to take another look at a revamped production-incentives package that stalled when the House cut short the regular legislative session.

But even getting a line item for tax credits to continue a currently unfunded program may be a tough sell as lawmakers struggle to reach a budget accord next month.

Film Florida, a non-profit entertainment production association, has written Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli asking that the incentives language be considered when lawmakers come back to Tallahassee for a special session starting June 1.

"We remain confident that you understand this business and the number of jobs it affects," the letter from Film Florida said.

Film Florida estimates there are more than 16,000 film and digital media production-related companies in Florida which employ more than 100,000 people.

Michael Williams, a spokesman for Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said in an email Tuesday that "we are still working on the call for special session, and nothing has been finalized at this time."

Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for Gardiner, R-Orlando, noted in an email that Gardiner has already "articulated his view" of what should be included in the session. When he proposed the special session, Gardiner said the Legislature should only include bills that had reached a point where conference committees had been requested during the regular session.

Other than bills tied directly to the budget (SB 2500) and Medicaid programs, issues that reached the conference stage include a series of bills involved in carrying out a land-conservation ballot initiative known as Amendment 1; a wide-ranging transportation bill (SB 7054) that includes $25 million for the SunTrail pedestrian and bicycle network backed by Gardiner; and the creation of an online "Business Information Portal" (SB 2510) providing information on starting and operating businesses in Florida.

Gus Corbella, chairman of the Florida Film and Entertainment Advisory Council and a lobbyist with Greenberg Traurig, said he doesn't expect the special session to expand into items that aren't directly tied to the budget.

However, Corbella said lawmakers could approve a line item in the budget to revive the tax-credit portion of the program that hasn't had money the past three years. Lawmakers could then readdress changes that were being considered to the program in the 2016 session, he said.

"We're clearly not going to see anything in regards to reforming the program in the special session," Corbella said. "But I'm hopeful that, while we continue to work on updating and reforming the program, that we won't allow it to die on the vine in the first place."

Efforts to revamp the tax-incentives program reached the floor in both chambers during the regular session but were not put up for final votes.

The proposals didn't include financial totals, but lawmakers behind the program had mentioned including $50 million a year in tax credits for five years.

The bills considered ranking production-company applications before offering tax credits, creating two pots from which applicants could apply for credits and limiting awards to up to 30 percent of the production costs. The proposals also sought to encourage filming in counties that historically are little-used by the industry and sought to move the state's governor-appointed film and entertainment commissioner from the Department of Economic Opportunity to Enterprise Florida, the state's public-private economic development agency.

But there hasn't been unanimous support to revive the tax-incentives program, with major opposition coming from the conservative-advocacy group Americans for Prosperity-Florida, which has portrayed the state's film and TV program as a giveaway of "taxpayers' hard-earned money to Hollywood executives."

Fueling the opposition is a study released earlier this year by the Legislature's Office of Economic and Demographic Research, which found Florida gets 43 cents back for every dollar awarded in tax incentives to productions.

Backers of the film and television industry argue the study's numbers were misunderstood as it only calculated tax receipts the government gets back, primarily through sales taxes.

Another problem with the current program is that incentives were awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, which quickly depleted the $296 million fund that was set up in 2010.

Since the program was created, no additional funding has been approved, making many in the state's film and television industry worry that Florida is losing production to states such as Georgia and Louisiana, which have established more open-ended funding pools for their industry incentive programs.

"Industry leaders have been committed to working with our legislators to develop a balanced program that will enhance the positive return on the state's investment, proving long term credibility and worth," the letter from Film Florida stated. "We have heard our legislators loud and clear and as a result substantial changes were made to the program that will help create more jobs, encourage economic and tourism growth, establish better accountability benchmarks and ultimately strengthen and diversify Florida's economy now and into the future."

"The News Service of Florida's Jim Turner contributed to this report."

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