The Sun's David Zurawik talks about upcoming trouble for Maryland's film tax credits, on WYPR FM's 'Take on Television.'
The political comedy series "Veep," which has been filmed the past four years in Columbia and elsewhere in Maryland, might be on the verge of pulling up stakes after landing $6.5 million in tax credits from California to shoot there.
An HBO spokeswoman said executives for the series, which stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus, are weighing their options and no decision has been made on where "Veep" will produce its fifth season.
"We are excited to have been accepted into the relocation program and are exploring our next steps," said Cecile Cross-Plummer, referring to California's effort to woo television series to Hollywood.
"Veep" is among four TV shows being filmed in other states that have been selected by California to receive tax credits under its newly expanded film incentive program. The show, now airing its fourth season, has promoted Louis-Dreyfus from vice president to the nation's first woman chief executive.
In Maryland, a state film office spokeswoman and the business agent for a union representing studio mechanics said they have received no word from HBO on whether the series will move.
"We haven't received any communication or confirmation from HBO about next steps for 'Veep,'" said Karen Bell Hood, a spokeswoman for Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development, which includes the state film office.
"Obviously, 'Veep' has deep roots in Maryland," she said, including a "great sound stage" in Columbia. "We will have to wait and see."
Debra Donaldson Dorsey, director of the Baltimore Film Office, said the show has offices in Mount Vernon and "is a tremendouns asset to Baltimore City."
"VEEP supports hundreds of Baltimore City small businesses, thousands around the state in addition to the jobs provided for crew and extras," Dorsey said. "I'm still hopeful that the state will step up and provide the commitment that HBO needs to keep VEEP here."
Democratic lawmakers supportive of TV and film production in Maryland say it will be a big loss if "Veep" departs, and they say the state is failing to compete for such projects by offering comparable tax credits.
Film tax credits generated intense controversy in Annapolis in 2014 after the producers of the Netflix political drama "House of Cards" threatened to relocate their sound stage from Harford County to another state unless it received more subsidies. Lawmakers did not agree to the amount "House of Cards" wanted, but the series decided to stay.
This year, some lawmakers sought to boost Maryland's funding for film tax credits, but amid opposition settled for a bill that leaves it up to the Hogan administration to decide what incentives to offer.
Over its first three seasons, "Veep" received $13.9 million in tax credits, hired 3,069 Marylanders and used 2,886 businesses in the state, according to Hood. She said the state had not pledged any tax credits toward the series' next season.
Del. Frank Turner, a Howard County Democrat, said the loss of "Veep" would be a blow to his East Columbia district, where the production has been filmed in the long-empty General Electric plant off Snowden River Parkway.
Turner said that during visits he has seen how Maryland electricians and carpenters created sets in the old factory. He said the programs had a significant economic impact on Columbia, filling many hotels rooms.
"A lot of gas is being bought at that Texaco station right around the corner," he said.
Turner, one of the House of Delegates' leading proponents of the tax credit as vice chairman of the Ways & Means Committee, contended that if "Veep" leaves the state, it will be because Gov. Larry Hogan "dropped the ball."
"He didn't make a commitment," Turner said.
The governor's office declined to comment.
Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, a Howard County Democrat who sponsored the tax-credit bill this year, faulted the state's failure to keep up as other states vie for film and TV productions with increasingly generous incentives. California lawmakers last year tripled the state's film tax credit funding, to $330 million a year.
"The rest of the world's watching," said Kasemeyer, who chairs the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. "It's a perception in this case that Maryland isn't committed. It sent a signal that Maryland's changing its mind."
Feeding the controversy was a report last year by the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services that questioned the economic benefits to the state from film tax credits. "Maryland has provided $62.5 million in tax credits between fiscal 2012 and 2016 while only receiving a fraction of the tax credit amounts back in revenues to the state and local governments," legislative analysts told the General Assembly this year.
Kasemeyer said the criticism missed the point — that the tax credits support entertainment industry jobs that otherwise would leave the state.
"If this trend increases with other productions, they'll have to go back out of Maryland to pursue their livelihoods," he said.
Sen. Andrew A. Serafini, a Washington County Republican, said he does not believe the governor dropped the ball even if "Veep" decides to leave.
While it would be unfortunate to lose the film industry jobs, Serafini said, there are legitimate questions whether the tax credit is effective compared with incentives for manufacturing, biotech or other industries. He said film jobs are not "sticky" — that is, they move easily from one state to another.
"If you look at the cost per job of this credit, it's one of the highest," Serafini said. "You have to ask the question: If you apply these credits to other industries, would there be more stickiness or long-term stability?"
Del. Eric G. Luedtke, the lead sponsor of this year's House bill to extend the tax credit, said the jobs lost if the show departs will be felt well beyond Howard County.
"I think we can get them back," said Luedtke, a Montgomery County Democrat, "maybe not from this production but from another production. The question is whether the governor is going to recruit a series to take its place."
"If "Veep" is not replaced," Luedtke warned, "the infrastructure that allowed Maryland to sustain a film industry could wither. The people who work there have very specific skill sets and they'll leave."
David O'Ferrall, business agent for the local studio mechanics union, suggested that if "Veep" does leave, it might not be solely because of the film credits, but because the series got a new "show runner," or general manager, who wanted to move the production to California.
O'Ferrall said he is confident that with the film industry talent in Maryland, and the variety of settings around the state for filming, other work will come.
"It's loss will definitely be felt," he said, noting that 60 to 80 of his union members worked on sets for "Veep. "But we're confident we'll be able to get another production here to take its place."
E. Scott Johnson, a lawyer representing the Maryland Film Industry Coalition, credited the state tax program's offering of "a high number of production days" with helping retain both VEEP and House of Cards in the past.
"It is not news that other states would love to have these Emmy Award winning series, or that some are willing to pay relocation costs to make that happen. While Veep has qualified for the California incentives, the moving vans are not here yet," Johnson said. "I am hopeful that the State will offer HBO competitive incentives needed to keep VEEP and thousands of jobs it supports here in Maryland."
The Los Angeles Times and Baltimore Sun reporter David Zurawik contributed to this article.