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Group pitches tax credits, bigger role for state to lure entertainment industry

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Florida’s government should be playing a much bigger role in drawing entertainment production to the state, an industry group representative told lawmakers Thursday.

Creating a public private partnership for the entertainment industry along the lines of Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, which promote tourism and business development, and expanding the state’s system of tax break could help build an infrastructure for job creation, Film Florida President Leah Sokolowsky said.

burnnotice1107During a presentation to the House Economic Affairs Committee, Sokolowsky said the state has already maxed out $296 million in tax breaks for television, movie and digital entertainment companies allocated in 2010 under a six-year plan.

“We really have no more money to attract projects,” she said.

She said expanding the tax breaks by increasing the annual amount of credits available to $150 to $200 million a year from 2016 to 2020 would be part of building an entertainment infrastructure to attract production investment, which in turn could produce jobs even for works that don’t rely on Florida for their story lines.

The success of projects like the USA Network’s “Burn Notice,” which was shot on location on Miami, can lead to others, like USA’s “Graceland” also coming to the Sunshine State.

However, Dominic M. Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, said the state needs to be careful about using tax breaks to draw industries.

While he didn’t want to comment on the specifics of Sokolowsky’s proposal, and acknowledged tax breaks could be necessary to even “be in the game” in attracting entertainment projects that could be considering locating in other states, Calabro said caution is in order.

That’s especially true in a state like Florida, which already has big players in the entertainment world like Disney and Universal.

“When used properly, tax incentives can be very valuable tools,” he told BizPac Review late Thursday. “It’s got to be used responsibly, accountably, and appropriately.”

In an interview after the presentation, Sokolowsky said that Florida lacks an agency dedicated to promoting entertainment production, and relies on groups like her’s, a non-profit organization made up of local film commissions, private industry and businesses in the entertainment industry.

“We’re  an industry-based non-profit. There’s a need for a partnership between government and industry,” she said. “We’re asking for help.”

Sokolowsky’s presentation, which ran nearly an hour, drew few questions from lawmakers, most relating to the direct benefits the state could expect from expanding the tax credit system.

Sokolowsky cited studies that estimate the state  gets $15 in revenue for every $1 in tax incentives provided. Plus, she said, the exposure the state receives through major television programs, such as “Burn Notice,” is invaluable.

“We’re using other people’s money to feature some of our best locations,” she said.

Sokolowsky said she expects bills to be introduced in the upcoming session that would both expand the tax-credit system and establish the entertainment partnership her group is seeking.

Passage would depend on whether the Republican-dominated Legislature can be convinced it would pay off.

“This is a small-government Legislature,” Sokolowsky said.  “I get that.”

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