House votes to end incentives to film industry

Kathleen Gray,

The $50 million in annual incentives given to the film industry were described Wednesday as everything from a scene from the movie “The Money Pit” to one of the best advertisements for Michigan.

But in the end, the House of Representatives voted 58-51, on a mostly party-line vote, to end the incentives on Oct. 1.

“As I went to bed last night, a movie came to mind. The film incentives are kind of like the 1986 movie “The Money Pit,” said state Rep. Jeff Farrington, R-Utica, a vocal critic of the incentives. “How much more money and time do we need to make this program successful? No supporter can provide this answer.”

But House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, said the incentives have provided one of the best showcases for Michigan’s treasures.

“Through the very modest $50 million, we receive hundreds of millions of commercial advertising value in terms of showcasing the great treasures our state has to offer, as well as media attention to the state,” he said. “The advertising and marketing is nearly priceless.”

The Legislature voted in December to extend the film incentives to 2021, but Republicans have been eager to end the credits for years, and the bill passed Wednesday — HB 4122 — was one of the first bills introduced this year.

While it passed the House relatively easily, it faces a more uncertain future in the Senate and with Gov. Rick Snyder.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, has said the issue isn’t a priority for him, and Snyder said Tuesday he prefers the incentives to be gradually phased out rather than eliminated all at once.

House Republicans said Tuesday the incentives haven’t delivered on the promise of a permanent workforce dedicated to the film industry.

“This is our first step. It has to start somewhere,” said state Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan. “From the Upper Peninsula, these film credits are widely derided. Let’s move the money to where we need it to be. Corporate welfare has been a bad idea for this state for a long time.”

But House Democrats said that the jobs that have been created might not be considered full time in labor statistics, but they’re skilled jobs that pay full-time wages and have used workers — like carpenters and electricians — who have been hit hard during the economic downturn.

“So many people say it’s a transient industry. That’s because we keep changing the rules,” said Rep. John Chirkun, D-Roseville. “We train people for our movies and then they have to move.”

And there’s something to the glitz and glamour of having movie stars walking Michigan streets and using Michigan services, said Rep. Kristy Pagan, D-Canton.

“Besides the strong economic impact, there is also the cool factor,” she said. “Who doesn’t want to see a Ben Affleck or Amy Adams walk down our streets.”

Several House Republicans shouted: “I don’t.”

The film incentives have cost the state more than $450 million since they were instituted in 2008.

But the film industry has spent more than $1.3 billion in Michigan during that time, according to annual reports with the Michigan Film office.

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

While the vote was mostly along party lines, several Republicans voted against ending the incentives.

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