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New fight at Capitol over film subsidies

The state's film tax credits are on the chopping block under Governor Snyder's budget proposal
Andrew McFarlane
creative commons
The state's film tax credits are on the chopping block under Governor Snyder's budget proposal

There’s a new fight underway at the state Capitol over Michigan’s tax credit for film, TV, and digital video projects. And some advocates for the subsidy say the debate itself is harming efforts to create a thriving Michigan movie and video entertainment business.  

Gov. Rick Snyder has never been a fan of the subsidies and his administration capped them $50 million in the current budget and in his proposed budget for the coming fiscal year. 

The film incentives were started seven years ago under Gov. Jennifer Granholm as part of an effort to diversify the economy and give a facelift to the state’s national and international image.

Now, some Republicans want to eliminate the incentive, starting at the end of this fiscal year. Defenders and opponents packed a state House committee hearing room (and an overflow room) on legislation to sunset the program.

“Batman vs. Superman” is a major production that recently wrapped up filming in Michigan. But Pat Kelly says the controversy is hurting efforts to bring other big-budget projects to the state.

Kelly is a union carpenter from Pontiac who says film production work offered him a new career. He says the incentives are helping to re-invent Michigan’s economy, but haven’t been given a real chance to work.

“The incentives being cut and constantly toyed with and tinkered with, there’s no real stability to it, and without stability, a lot of productions are pulling up and heading out of state,” he says.

Supporters of the credit say the ongoing debate is costing the state jobs in the movie industry.

"Every time that this comes up and there’s hearings and everything else, Hollywood gets a little skittish and it scares people from coming here because they view it as being not stable,” says Bill Black with the Michigan Teamsters, which has a couple thousand members working in the industry. 

But business groups are among those that insist the incentives are a boondoggle that haven’t produced the promised results.

“Why should we continue to subsidize an industry just because it’s fun and it’s glitzy at the expense of so many other important priorities for Michigan residents and taxpayers,” says Tricia Kinley of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. “We can think of 50 million better ways to spend this.” 

She says the film projects don’t deserve a special break that’s not offered to other businesses.

“It’s nice that they’re here for a little bit of time, and, sure, they create a little bit of spin-off activity, but, so do so many companies across the state of Michigan that have planted roots here. They’re creating spin-off activity here, too, and they’ve never asked for a dime.” 

The House Tax Policy Committee is expected to vote on the bill next week.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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