Nothing quite creates a buzz in downtown Spokane like a staged collision.
Preplanned mayhem was a staple of many movies shot here by North by Northwest Productions in recent years. But the lapse last year of an important tax credit turned off the spotlights, and with them the paychecks of dozens of Spokane actors, technicians and others associated with film, video and commercial production.
The Washington Senate reauthorized the Motion Picture Competitiveness Program last year, but the measure was left on the cutting room floor when representatives left Olympia without taking a vote. On Tuesday, the Senate voted 40-8 to revive the program.
It’s time for the House to get the picture.
The law allows Washington corporations to contribute to a fund that helps attract film and video productions to the state. The contributions – up to a total $3.5 million per year – are deducted from their business and occupation tax obligations. Avista and Washington Trust Bank were among the first companies to participate, and North by Northwest was among the first companies to benefit and keep benefiting, as did other Spokane companies.
The funds are administered by the nonprofit Washington Filmworks, which says 71 projects received assistance from the program. More than 4,000 film crew members drew paychecks, as did almost 700 actors and 5,000 extras. Producers had to provide health and retirement benefits.
A Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee estimated that each dollar in state money generated $1.99 in economic activity. Through 2009, producers had spent $36 million in the state and paid more than $800,000 in sales taxes.
Recipients are required to document in-state spending before getting program money, and JLARC called for improved reporting.
The new legislation enhances the program by making the money available to producers for the Internet, gaming and other new media platforms, and boosting the allowable level of assistance for a series with multiple episodes.
Washington Filmworks Executive Director Amy Lillard said several potential projects that wanted to shoot in Washington walked away when the state assistance was no longer available. With 44 other states chasing the same business, there are plenty of alternatives. British Columbia, a Washington look-alike, has become a movie and video production mecca.
If legislators do not renew the program, Filmworks itself will close its doors July 1, eliminating Washington’s single point of contact for producers. It will follow the state’s tourism office into oblivion, making the Evergreen State a black hole for anyone on the outside trying to look in.
Tax breaks are a touchy subject given Washington’s budget woes, but the Competitive Program has undergone – and survived – exceptional scrutiny. This is an investment worthy of a sequel.
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