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Report: Movie industry hires veteran lobbyists
By KELLEY SHANNON
AUSTIN—Texas movie and video producers have spent up to $300,000 on lobby contracts as they gear up to press for expanded state financial incentives for the film industry in the 2009 legislative session, a new report says.
The Texas Motion Picture Alliance, in disclosing its lobby contracts for 2007 and 2008, said it spent between $100,000 and $300,000 to hire several state government veterans, according to the nonprofit Texans for Public Justice, which tracks money in politics. Lobby contracts are reported to the state ethics commission only in ranges.
Texans for Public Justice released its report last week in which it also criticizes the existing Texas film incentive program. It began circulating an opinion article based on the report in which it says Texas can't afford to offer movie incentives. It asks why film industry lobbyists are "demanding an even bigger handout."
"With so many human needs requiring state assistance, what entitles movie producers to cut to the front of the soup line?" the TPJ article states.
Movie industry advocates say they are trying to keep jobs and money in Texas, where a number of movie crews are based and the diverse terrain offers filmmakers an assortment of location options. Republican Gov. Rick Perry has said luring movie, television and video game producers to the state is part of his effort to create jobs in Texas.
The alliance, formed in 2006, states that it seeks to educate legislators and the public on all forms of media production and its economic impact in the state. Producers lately have been flocking to other states that offer larger financial incentives, so Perry and film industry leaders are trying to re-ignite the industry in Texas.
In 2007, the Legislature set aside $24 million for film, television and video industry incentives. Producers can get payments from the state—a rebate of sorts—totaling up to 5 percent of their in-state spending. Perry is requesting another $40 million for the coming two years on top of the existing allocation, potentially upping to the total pool to $64 million, said his spokeswoman, Allison Castle.
Under Texas law, production companies also can seek exemptions from state and local sales taxes for what they rent and purchase on most projects in the state.
As of Oct. 15, the state had awarded more than $10 million to 160 projects, with the biggest grants going to expensive feature films and television programs, according to the TPJ report. The group also pointed out that 75 percent of the media-subsidy applications that Texas has approved are for TV commercials, many promoting national retailers and multinational corporations such as Wal-Mart.
The organization's report said even if Texas tripled its subsidies to the movie and television industries, Texas would still not be competitive with more aggressive states.
Texas Film Commission director Bob Hudgins, who wants to increase the percentage of the state grants up to 15 percent of a movie company's spending, has said some states' unusually large incentive programs may begin to subside. He said Texas' aim is to have a sustainable, long-term movie incentive plan.