Spin Control

THURSDAY, MAY 19, 2011, 3:32 P.M.

Spec Sess Day 24: Motions picture tax break extended

OLYMPIA -- The Senate extended a tax incentive for motion picture production companies filming in Washington state over objections from critics that it was a "loophole" that doesn't bring much benefit to the state.

On a 30-16 vote,  the Senate approved SB 5539 which offers incentives to companies that shoot movies or television shows in the state and hires local workers. It rejected an amendment to set a requirement that at least 75 percent of the workers be state residents.

Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said the exemption was first proposed and approved in 2006, when all the surrounding states had incentives and Washington risked losing out to Idaho, Oregon and British Columbia. Spokane-based North by Northwest was being lured to Boise because of tax incentives, she added.

"Spokane hosts several films a year," she said. It often wins out over Seattle because it's willing to close streets and let film companies reconstruct storefronts for their productions.  "It's the kind of thing I'd rather have in Spokane than Boise."

Sen. Jim Kastama, Puyallup, said the incentives "are not worth the money spent" and that other things like research at the state's universities is a better use of state money. One study suggested the state gets only 14 cents back for every dollar of incentive, he said.

But other studies suggest there's almost $2 of increased economic activity for every $1 spent. And Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, said the number of states offering such incentives has grown, from 14 when Washington first offered them in 2006, to 44 now. The prospect that this incentive would disappear prompted one company to film the television series "The Killing" in British Columbia and Oregon, even though it is supposedly set in Seattle, she said.

Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said in recent weeks some of the people supporting this tax incentive were calling for the closure of tax loopholes. "We're opening up another loophole," Tom said.

The bill now goes to the House.

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Jim Camden
Jim Camden is the Olympia bureau chief, covering the Legislature and state government. He also is a political columnist and blogger for Spin Control.

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