Tax credit to lure films to Pennsylvania approved
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Tax talk is a lot more boring than gossiping about actor Mark Wahlberg or Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson, but one can lead to the other.
More than two months after Gov. Rendell met with legislators and high-profile Hollywood representatives to talk about making the state more competitive for movie and TV projects, the Senate approved measures doing just that and the House followed late yesterday afternoon.
An earlier vote led to a slight increase in funding for state libraries, while other funding decisions that affect arts groups such as the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra were still pending.
On the film front, the bills provide for a $75 million tax credit program to lure large productions to the state and $5 million in grants to attract smaller ones. An early pitch had been made for no cap on the credits, but $75 million is still a vast improvement over the existing $10 million a year that had been available.
"It's seven and a half times better than in the past three years. We're thrilled," said Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office. "We're much more competitive. Other states have been spending a lot of money to incentivize this industry."
States such as New Mexico, Louisiana and Connecticut are coming on strong with ways to lure productions, setting up a bidding war of sorts that benefits filmmakers. "The governor understands how important the industry is," Ms. Keezer said.
While some legislators questioned Mr. Rendell courting Hollywood or granting tax relief while other requests went begging or were postponed, Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, yesterday said the measures were "about employing Pennsylvanians, not about Hollywood actors."
Mr. Sturla, whose district has hosted "Witness" and other film projects, was the prime sponsor of the House bills that were first introduced in June. He and others have argued that movie and TV productions are economic and image generators, promoting the state within and without.
While M. Night Shyamalan's "The Happening" with Mr. Wahlberg and Mr. Jackson's "The Lovely Bones" soon will shoot near Philadelphia, Ms. Keezer said producers with projects budgeted at $221 million are looking at southwestern Pennsylvania.
They were waiting to see what Harrisburg would do.
In fact, Lionsgate, the company that produced Spike TV's "The Kill Point" that was filmed here, said it could return to Pittsburgh if the tax breaks were passed. While the fiscal year has started, production companies cannot receive tax credits until a project is finished.
The public libraries' biggest concern was the potential raiding of the Keystone Fund under a proposal that would have shifted $40 million from the fund to pay for the clean up of hazardous waste sites.
The proposal was pulled from the budget debate Monday night, but the General Assembly will consider the waste-disposal issue in the fall.
The Keystone Fund concerns aside, Glenn R. Miller, executive director of the Pennsylvania Library Association, told members of the association that "most library-related line items will receive the same as last year," according to the new budget.
State funding for libraries increases 4.6 percent, from $4,574,000 to $4,784,000 in 2007-08.
The state's public library was increased only 0.03 percent in the new budget, a trifling $250,000 for the Commonwealth's 630 libraries. "Libraries will receive what they received last year under the Public Library Subsidy, plus a portion of the $250,000 increase," said Mr. Miller.
The PSO's request for a grant of $2.5 million, the same as requested and received by the organization last year, was still undecided yesterday. In 2006, the money was allocated through the Department of Community and Economic Development.
An orchestra spokesman said yesterday afternoon that there had been no word from Harrisburg as the PSO prepares its budget for the next fiscal year.
First Published July 17, 2007 11:19 pm