Lawmakers want to cut Michigan’s film incentive program

Posted at 6:12 PM, Feb 20, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-20 18:12:49-05

MICHIGAN -- The lights and cameras that have become familiar sights in towns across West Michigan and the state could soon disappear if lawmakers take action and eliminate the state's tax incentive program for film makers.

With a $325 million budget shortfall looming, Rep. Dan Lauwers, R-Brockway, introduced the bill, HB 4122, arguing the payoff for taxpayers hasn't warranted keeping the incentives in place.

“It just makes no sense to continue handing out hard-earned taxpayer dollars to subsidize the film industry," Lauwers said in a written email response to FOX 17.

“At a time when the state is dealing with budget challenges, I believe that the tens of millions of dollars in film subsidies we offer to corporate movie studios could be put to better use elsewhere."

$50 million in subsidies have been authorized for the current fiscal year for film makers. If the legislation is passed, the program would end Oct. 1.

Joe Voss, an entertainment attorney for Clark Hill and member of the State Film Office Advisory Council, said while he's support making changes to the program he doesn't think canning it entirely is the best move.

“I think it’s a baby bathwater situation," he said. In any program there are ways to tweak it and ways that result in a better benefit.”

Voss adds he can understand the frustration of opponents who argue the incentives haven't created more widespread, long-term employment, but says that shouldn't necessarily be the metric used to measure success.

“It’s a mobile--sort of by definition--industry and so without some specific focus on development of infrastructure and employment opportunities locally it gets hard to capture long term benefit," he said.

“Folks that are running camera and running lights, they move from project to project, so it’s a little bit harder to sort of quantify and say 'this is somebody who’s going to show up at a place everyday and have a full-time job.'”

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce supports the legislation, calling it a "boondoggle" that's distributed about $500 million in state tax revenue to film makers.

“The lost revenue did not ever generate sufficient private sector activity to offset the costs of this program," said Tricia Kinley, senior director of tax policy with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

“We have longtime employers in Michigan who have never received a dime from the state but they’re turning out jobs, they’re creating economic activity. But meanwhile we keep throwing money at Hollywood executives at the expense of hiring Michigan residents.”

The bill heads to the House Tax Policy Committee for debate next week.