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Gov. may back film subsidy boost

SANTA FE — Gov. Susana Martinez, who pushed to curb New Mexico’s film tax incentive program shortly after taking office in 2011, said Monday the film industry is “extremely” important to the state and suggested the film subsidies could be beefed up in future years.

The Republican governor, who chatted with actors and producers while touring the set of the Santa Fe-based television show “Longmire,” insisted her stance on the industry hasn’t changed in the past two years.

“I’ve never been critical of the subsidy to the film industry if it didn’t cost, or take away, from education,” Martinez told reporters. “I understand that it is very important as part of our economy.”

A tax package approved this year by the Legislature and signed into law by Martinez includes an expansion of the film tax incentive program that will allow qualifying TV shows to take in larger tax rebates from the state.

However, an annual spending limit of $50 million on the film rebates — which Martinez championed in 2011 — remains in place.

The governor said Monday that a massive 2011 budget shortfall forced her to look for ways to save money. Trimming the film incentives was one way to do that, Martinez said.

With the state’s finances now on steadier ground, Martinez told reporters Monday that she might be willing to consider additional changes to make the tax incentive program more generous.

“I think there’s always room to look at it again,” Martinez said, referring specifically to possible tweaks to the annual spending cap and rebate amount.

However, she said such changes would not be considered until next year, after the full impact of looming federal spending cuts are known.

Jon Hendry, the business agent for a local film workers union, said Martinez’s tour of the “Longmire” set was a positive sign for the film industry.

“I’m glad she went, but I’m disappointed it took two years,” Hendry said Monday.

“When she stops calling them subsidies and starts calling them tax credits we’ll know she’s convinced,” he added. “But at least she’s giving us a chance.”

New Mexico currently offers a 25 percent rebate to film companies for most direct, in-state expenditures. Under the newly-approved legislation, long-running television programs will be eligible for an additional 5 percent credit — or 30 percent in all.

After a slowdown in filming following the 2011 changes to the film rebates, filming in the state has picked up in recent months, as several productions are currently in the works.

One of those, the A&E drama “Longmire,” set a record for most viewers for the cable network when it debuted in June 2012. Production for the show’s second season is based at Santa Fe’s Greer Garson Studios and is expected to last through mid-August.

The show employs more than 175 New Mexico crew members, according to the New Mexico Film Office.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal