How the 'House of Cards' film tax credit shrank

The Baltimore Sun

The potential pool of cash available for the film industry shrank by $3.5 million in the final minutes of the General Assembly session, leaving lawmakers asking: Is $15 million enough for "House of Cards" to stay?

The Netflix political thriller, which filmed some of its second season in the Maryland State House, received more than $26 million in taxpayer money over the past two years to film in the state. When the O'Malley administration offered only $4 million in tax incentives for filming this year, the production company pushed back filming for its third season and threatened to break down its sets and move elsewhere.

Lawmakers' disagreement over how much to give the industry -  and whether to put conditions on the money - lingered until minutes before the General Assembly adjourned at midnight. With just 15 minutes remaining, six powerful lawmakers argued forcefully in the lounge of the House of Delegates over whether giving state officials the option to revoke promised tax credits would scare off film companies.

"We're losing hundreds of millions of dollars in business," Sen. Verna L. Jones-Rodwell, a Baltimore Democrat, argued to House colleagues who refused to back down on the conditions. 

If the bill with the provisions did not pass before midnight, the budget only allowed state officials to spend $15 million on film incentives instead of the $18.5 million that was available.

"Is this language worth keeping $3.5 million?" asked Del. Frank S. Turner, a Howard County Democrat and vice chair of the House Ways and Means committee.

The lounge summit broke up without a deal, and although senators were scrambling back onto the House floor with mere seconds left on the clock to reach a deal, delegates said the senators' offer was neither a concession nor a compromise.

“I don’t know what it was all about," said Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, chair of the Budget and Tax Committee and a Howard County Democrat. "It’s unfortunate. I think it’s a good program. It seems to be working well, creating jobs, money’s being spent.   I’m not sure what the House’s (problem) was.”

House Speaker Michael E. Busch said afterward that delegates thought the state was too "permissive" with how easily tax credits could be distributed.

"Our goal is to provide tax credits regardless of whether any individual production company stays or not," Busch said. "There's no guarantee that even if we passed $18 million that they'd stay."

Baltimore Sun reporters Timothy B. Wheeler and Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

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