State film incentives in peril
Legislative panel recommends continuing $3.5 million program
A report that recommends Washington renew a 4-year-old program that supports movie, television and commercial production was forwarded to lawmakers Wednesday by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee.
The Motion Picture Competitiveness Program, with an annual price tag of $3.5 million, has helped pay for dozens of movies, television episodes and commercials, keeping almost 800 people employed in the process, the report says.
Many work in Spokane. Wednesday, North by Northwest Productions had 70 technicians working on a film adaptation of the Madeleine L’Engle novel “Camilla,” company President Rich Cowan said.
“We wouldn’t have the work if it wasn’t for the incentives,” said Cowan, adding that every project his company has been involved with since 2006 has been a beneficiary.
But with Washington facing a $385 million budget deficit for the fiscal year ending June 30, supporters were concerned that a program they consider vital to the industry, and an economic plus for the state, might be swept away.
If lawmakers do not renew the program before July, it will expire.
“Obviously, we’re in challenging times,” said state Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City, a member of the committee.
But Anderson suggested that, given California’s budget woes, Washington should “lay down flypaper” to capture more Hollywood business.
“We need to be economic opportunists,” he said.
The program allows Washington businesses that place money with the Department of Revenue to get a dollar-for-dollar credit against their business and occupation tax obligations.
The department forwards the contributions to Washington Filmworks, a nonprofit agency that distributes the money to production companies like North by Northwest.
In 2009, 14 movies and commercials received $4.6 million in funds, and another $5.1 million was committed for projects in 2010, Filmworks Executive Director Amy Lillard said.
Only 18 states had some kind of film or television production incentives in 2006, when the Washington law was instituted. Now, 44 states offer assistance of some kind, although some have suspended or scaled back their incentives because of budget pressures or disappointing results.
Idaho has not funded its cash rebate program.
But the report to the legislative committee found that, through 2009, companies that had received $8.4 million in incentives spent $36 million, indirectly generating another $36 million in economic activity. They paid $837,000 in sales taxes.
The incentives have also kept Washington competitive with other states for movie and television production, said Stacia Hollar, who prepared the report.
Although the review said the incentives should be continued, it also recommended reporting by production companies be improved so lawmakers could better evaluate the program’s value.