Film stripped

The Baltimore Sun

Hollywood producers may say they like a location's weather, or wax poetic about the great scenery or architecture, or love the people they hire as extras. But whether they decide to film in your state? That's largely a function of the bottom line.

Despite the downturn in the economy and the resulting state budget crisis (and perhaps even because of it), California has started offering 20 percent tax rebates for big movies shot there and 25 percent for TV shows. That's a relatively modest deal - Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New Mexico and New York are among the states either offering or contemplating giving even more.

The reasoning is not hard to figure out. These are highly desirable, well-paid jobs. And in this tax incentives arms race, Maryland has entered the fray nearly unarmed, with a mere $2 million in grant money and no tax incentives at all. Until the state is willing to pack something more than a pea-shooter of a program, the days of having major motion pictures or HBO TV series like The Wire filmed here may be coming to a close.

Legislation to provide a competitive tax credit of 25 percent to 28 percent of qualified costs is pending before the state legislature. But with the session nearing its Monday night close, it appears the proposal is going to die in the Senate Budget and Taxation and House Ways and Means committees without the courtesy of so much as an up or down vote.

It's fair to argue that now is not the time to spend from the state budget. But the beauty of the film production tax credit is that it's self-funded. The producer gets back only some of what his company has spent in the state. Maryland taxpayers still come out ahead - and using the state as a backdrop in film and television doesn't exactly hurt the local tourism trade.

This much is certain: Without such an incentive, Maryland is likely to miss out on hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity - and watch the creative talent assembled here over the years leave town.

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