Texas entertainment industry calls for more incentive funds

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Backers of film and video game productions in Texas are pushing legislators to earmark $60 million or more this year to boost the state’s entertainment industry.

The Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program has seen its funding sharply decline to $32 million over the current two-year budget cycle, down from the $95 million in the 2014-2015 cycle. The taxpayer-funded incentive program continues to face opposition from Republican lawmakers, having narrowly survived an attempt to end the rebates for qualifying productions in 2017, the Austin American-Statesman reported .

The drop in funding has led several big productions to leave Texas, while the state competes with similar efforts in New Mexico, Louisiana and Georgia. According to the Texas Film Commission, about 55 productions were funded through the incentive program during the current budget cycle, compared to 290 in the 2014-2015 period.

“It has been enough to keep a couple big (TV) shows in the state, and some video game productions and a couple of big movies,” said Mindy Raymond, spokeswoman for the lobbying group Texas Motion Picture Alliance.

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But, “we’re on life support,” she said.

The initial state Legislature budget proposals this year include about $23 million for the incentives. Advocates are hoping for more but said it’s a starting point.

“We feel like we’re going in the right direction,” Raymond said. “Going into the session, we’re hearing a lot of good positivity” from lawmakers about the program.

Gov. Greg Abbott has requested $32 million for the incentives in his initial budget request “as a baseline,” said Bryan Daniel, director of the governor’s economic development office. Daniel said the state “could do as much business as there was incentive money.”

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However, Republican Rep. Matt Shaheen has long opposed the issue and already refiled an unsuccessful bill from the last legislative session aimed at eliminating the program.

“This takes (tax) dollars from citizens, dollars from single moms, dollars from school teachers, and gives them to producers of films,” Shaheen said. “It’s just not a good use of taxpayer dollars.”

But supporters of the program said such criticism misunderstands how applicants spend the money, which often goes to art supplies for set design and crew lunches at mom-and-pop restaurants.


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Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com