Many state lawmakers are ready to yell "Cut!" on tax breaks for film and television projects. As the Legislature grapples with deep budget cuts, incentives to lure productions like True Grit and Friday Night Lights are drawing a closer look.
"For me, you're going to have to really do some convincing that it is really more important than having a nursing home stay open," said Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa.
Though critics call the breaks a handout to Hollywood, supporters say cutting them off would be shortsighted.
While the state works through a $27 billion shortfall due partly to plummeting sales tax revenue, the incentives have prompted studios and video game developers to spend millions in Texas instead of other states.
Two high-profile TV pilots — TNT's remake of Dallas and ABC's GCB — recently announced casting calls in Dallas, drawn in part by promised tax breaks, according to Texas Film Commissioner Evan Fitzmaurice.
"As long as these incentive programs exist ... it's important that Texas continue to be in that conversation," Fitzmaurice said.
Texas launched its film incentives program in 2005 and increased funding from $22 million over two years to $62 million in 2009. Between April 2009 and August 2010, the Texas Film Commission says, the program helped draw the equivalent of 3,790 full-time jobs to the state and $415 million in spending.
In January, legislative leaders proposed cutting funding to $10 million, effectively gutting the program, according to Don Stokes, head of the Texas Motion Picture Alliance. "Ten million dollars isn't really going to allow us to keep this momentum moving forward," Stokes said. "Producers don't look at that and see they can make a long-term commitment."
At a Senate hearing last month, Milton Rister from Gov. Rick Perry's office requested an extra $20 million for film incentives. Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, asked Rister why a "feel-good" program deserves funding during a budget crisis.
"Help me understand and explain to the people of Texas that we're going to spend millions of dollars on tourism and movie production but we're going to be cutting back Medicaid, letting teachers go," Whitmire said.
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