Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Film Incentives Debated at Event
By Adrian Gomez
Journal Staff Writer
Hundreds of people showed up Tuesday for a debate on tax incentives for the film industry, which advocates described as the "gold standard" and which critics likened to a heroin addict.
Gov. Susana Martinez proposed Monday lowering the amount of the film tax rebate for productions in New Mexico, from 25 percent to 15 percent. The tax rebate is available for direct in-state expenses such as food, lodging and vehicle rentals.
"This is a gold standard industry that is envied," said Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort, R-Sandia Park. "Why would we want to change something that is very successful?"
Rep. Dennis Kintigh, R-Roswell, said the film industry is like an addict, dependent on subsidy from taxpayers.
"It's like a heroin addict," he said while getting a barrage of "boos" from the crowd. "Where and how do we stop it?"
The New Mexico Film Industry Policy Debate was held at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. More than 300 people, mostly in the film business, filled the Bank of America Theatre, while a spillover crowd watched via webcast in another theater.
Kintigh, Beffort, Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe and Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, R-Albuquerque, debated the rebates as part of a panel. While Beffort and Egolf supported the program, Kintigh and Arnold-Jones were wary.
They all agreed, though, that there needs to be more accountability.
"The loopholes need to be closed," Egolf said. "Again, why would we tamper with one of the only industries that has sustained growth in the past five years?"
Rick Clemente, CEO of I-25 Studios, said Martinez's announcement Monday already is raising eyebrows in the film industry.
"Producers and films come to New Mexico because of the program," he said. "When they read that there may be some instability, they will move on to another state. This week, I have four potential clients for the studio, and I need to assure them it's going to be fine, and I can't."
New Mexico spent about $65 million last year on the rebates. Martinez said lowering the rebate amount could save the state $25 million next year.
Wayne Rauschenberger, chief operating officer of Albuquerque Studios, said the recommended reduction by Martinez sends the wrong message.
"Any kind of reduction, and particularly a 40 percent reduction, says New Mexico is now closed for business," he said. "In these tough economic times, we need to do everything we can to foster job creation, and a reduction in the film incentive program is a job killer, not a solution for continued job creation."
Eric Witt, executive director of the Motion Picture Association of New Mexico, suggested a thorough study of the true economic benefits.
"By getting into the film business early, New Mexico has given itself a degree of strategic advantage over states who are just now adopting incentives like ours," he said. "It would be unwise to eliminate that advantage now, when so many jobs in the state depend on every aspect of local filmmaking."