Lawmakers urged to reject film tax credit limits

·3 min read

Jun. 6—BOSTON — The state's film industry is pushing legislative leaders to reject a plan to reduce its generous subsidies.

Last week, members of the Massachusetts Production Coalition said the state's Film and Television Production Incentive has helped develop a thriving industry, and they urged lawmakers to lock in tax credits that buttress the program.

A Senate version of the $47 billion state budget would extend the tax credit's 2023 sunset date by four years and require producers who receive the credit to spend at least 75% of their budgets in Massachusetts.

The provision also caps salaries eligible for the credit at $1 million and prohibits transfer of the credits.

A previous version of the state budget approved by the House would make the tax credits permanent and not touch any of the criteria to qualify for them.

Film production workers say the Senate plan would effectively exclude many feature films, TV shows and streaming series, eliminating thousands of good-paying jobs and driving that filming and economic activity elsewhere.

"Hollywood has a list of features that they're looking for and locations to shoot," John Rule of Rule Boston Camera said Wednesday during a live-streamed briefing hosted by the coalition. "If you take a couple of things off that list, they'll go find somewhere else to shoot."

Alison Katinger, of Salem, Massachusetts, who works on clothing and props for film productions, says she'll likely move to another state for work if the credits expire.

"I would have to uproot," she said. "That kind of job insecurity is taxing, knowing that at any given time I could lose my job, I have to sell my house."

Debate over the film subsidies is a perennial event on Beacon Hill, but a push to make the credits permanent has become louder as their current expiration date approaches.

Efforts to repeal the program, including one pushed by Gov. Charlie Baker, have met resistance from lawmakers and municipal leaders.

To qualify for credits, a film or commercial production must spend more than $50,000 within a year and be filmed at least partially in the state.

The program offers a subsidy equal to 25% of production costs — including set construction, wages, security, food and other expenses. There's no cap on the credits, which can be used up to five years after being issued. Credits may also be sold, transferred to another studio or cashed in by production studios.

Under the law, production studios can also get an exemption from the state's 6.25% sales tax.

Since 2006, the state has doled out more than $550 million in film tax credits for major Hollywood hits like "The Town" and "Godzilla: King of the Monsters."

In 2019, it awarded more than $77 million in credits to 179 productions, according to the latest data from the state Department of Revenue.

Despite criticism that the subsidies are a giveaway to Hollywood studio bosses, supporters say the program is a good investment.

Industry officials say the tax credit has helped finance 270 productions that have collectively spent more than $2.8 billion in Massachusetts.

Earlier this year, a state panel flagged the tax credit as one of several that lawmakers should consider modifying or repealing altogether.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group's newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhi.com

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