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Governor, actors push for film rebate bill

SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has doubled down on a plan to remove New Mexico’s annual cap on film rebate spending, saying the move would spark economic growth statewide and could actually give the state more budget certainty.

At a Roundhouse news conference, the Democratic governor said eliminating the $50 million cap would make New Mexico more competitive with states like Georgia that have ramped up their film programs in recent years.

“In my mind, they kind of stole the momentum from the state of New Mexico – and we’re going to steal it back,” Lujan Grisham said. “We have to remove a disincentive for folks to be filming here.”

The legislation to remove the annual cap, Senate Bill 2, will be sponsored by Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, and is expected to be formally introduced in the coming days.

It would also tighten the law regarding which expenditures qualify for the film subsidies, while requiring movies and TV shows filmed in New Mexico to give more acknowledgement to the state in their credits.

Rodriguez said the legislation would help the state ween itself off a historic reliance on the oil and natural gas industry.

“We have seen a very lucrative return on our investment from the film industry,” she said.

Several actors also spoke Friday in favor of the measure, including Canadian actor Brendan Fehr, who stars in the television series “Roswell,” and Jenny Gabrielle, a New Mexico actress who has appeared in “Only the Brave” and other movies.

However, the bill will have to overcome skepticism from some lawmakers – both Democrats and Republicans – who have described the film rebates as “corporate welfare” and questioned whether they benefit rural New Mexico.

New Mexico spending on film incentives was unlimited for years, but former Gov. Susana Martinez signed 2011 legislation that established the annual cap after a surge in spending.

That led to a temporary slowdown in New Mexico production and complaints from some film industry executives that the cap had prompted some productions to go elsewhere.

Lujan Grisham touted the film industry on the campaign trail last year and called for a repeal of the film rebate spending cap during her Jan. 1 inaugural address.

In addition to eliminating the annual limit, the governor has said she also favors paying off an estimated backlog of $324 million of submitted claims that have yet to be paid out because of the cap.

That proposed expenditure would be included in a different spending bill.

New Mexico’s film incentive program functions as a rebate, offers a 25 percent tax rebate to film companies for most direct, in-state expenditures while long-running TV programs are eligible for an additional 5 percent – or 30 percent in all.

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