Lift the limit: A bigger film tax credit would mean more Pa. jobs

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State legislators have a long list of big-ticket items on their agenda this week, but the little things are important, too.

The film production tax credit offers incentives to companies that make movies and television shows in Pennsylvania, and its success in recent years has been obvious in the number of times locations in Pittsburgh, its suburbs and other parts of the state have shown up as backdrops and settings. That has meant money pumped into the local economy, permanent jobs, spin-off business and one-time gigs for extras.

When 60 percent of a company's production expenses are incurred in the state, it gets a 25 percent tax credit on qualified costs. That tax credit has proven to be so popular that the $60 million annual limit was reached halfway through the fiscal year. Unfortunately, that meant new productions that might have come to Pennsylvania were stopped in their tracks.

According to Pittsburgh Film Office director Dawn Keezer, 24 productions were turned away statewide, 11 of them from Pittsburgh. She said eight full-time production crews, each with 110 to 125 members who work for various filmmakers when they come to the state, have been idle since January.

State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, a Delaware County Republican, has proposed removing the cap, which he said would give the state flexibility it needs to commit to multi-year productions and to better manage the tax credit. In addition, his Senate Bill 1035 would extend the tax incentive to videogame production and give an additional 5 percent credit for post-production work completed in a permanent facility in the state.

Most states offer some form of incentive, and a dozen of them do not cap their credits. An open-ended tax credit does not mean the state will risk having to forgive untold sums in tax obligations. The market is self-limiting, according to Ms. Keezer, who said that, for example, if the state's permanent crews are committed to projects, filmmakers likely would go elsewhere because bringing in their own crews is too expensive.

Bolstering the film and TV production business is not about tax breaks for Hollywood, but jobs and economic development for Pennsylvania.

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