Michigan Legislature poised to end movie incentives program; state film office stays open

IndustriesAssociated Press

Michigan lawmakers moved Thursday to end an incentive program used to entice movie, TV and video game productions such as "The Five-Year Engagement" and parts of the "Transformers" series to the state over the past seven years, saving money that proponents said would be better spent improving crumbling roads.

The Senate voted 24-13 for legislation prohibiting the state from striking new deals with studios. The House was expected to send the bill to Gov. Rick Snyder later Thursday, the last day before legislators scale back meeting for the summer.

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Republicans who control the Legislature said the intent was to eliminate the incentives — for which $50 million a year typically has been allotted recently — but still honor existing commitments.

"That was money that could easily be moved toward the budget, toward the general fund to go toward roads. That's all I was looking for, to just get that money directly benefiting everyone in the state rather than people in a single industry," said the sponsor, Republican Rep. Dan Lauwers of Brockway.

Unlike an earlier Senate version of the measure, it would no longer shut down the Michigan Film Office, which was created in 1979 long before the incentives program launched in 2008.

Michigan reimburses 25 percent of studios' qualified production expenses, more if they spend at permanent studios or post-production facilities in the state. Other productions have included "Gran Torino."

Critics including the Michigan Chamber of Commerce say spending millions of public dollars on moviemaking is unjustified and few full-time industry jobs have been created. The industry and other defenders of the incentives say they have had a positive economic impact. They lost a key ally when former Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville left in December because of term limits.

The Republican governor issued an order in February cutting the $50 million Film and Digital Media Production Assistance Program by $12 million to help address a budget deficit. The 2015-16 spending plan he signed Wednesday includes $25 million, but all but $19 million will be spent to retire bonds that the State of Michigan Retirement Systems must cover after the Michigan Motion Pictures Studio in Pontiac failed to make payments to bondholders.

In 2012, the studio — then known as Raleigh Michigan Studios — blamed its hard times on Michigan severely slashing what had been some of the country's most generous movie-making incentives. Raleigh broke ground in 2009 during the heyday of the film breaks but opened in 2011 amid industry uncertainty after Snyder took office.

From April 2008 through 2011, the incentives were awarded in the form of refundable business tax credits.

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House Bill 4122: http://1.usa.gov/1LhIccT

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