Senate bill

SC Senate proposes higher incentives to lure film companies

abeam@thestate.comFebruary 27, 2013 

 

— The state Senate wants to pay film companies more money to make movies and TV shows in South Carolina.

South Carolina already offers film companies incentives to film in the Palmetto State – a 15 percent rebate on whatever the company spends on wages and supplies purchased in South Carolina.

But some senators want to increase those rebates to 30 percent for supplies and 20 percent of wages – and even more, 25 percent, if the company hires a state resident. The Senate Finance Committee approved a bill, S.163, Tuesday that would do that. It now heads to the Senate floor for debate.

Film companies would be eligible for the rebates only if they spend $1 million or more. And the state only would give the rebates as long as it has the money to spend.

Last year, lawmakers set aside $10 million for the wage rebates and spent about $6 million, according to Marion Edmonds, spokesman for the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. The state uses a portion of the state admissions tax to pay the supply rebates.

“I would love to see the film industry grow and prosper in South Carolina. They employ a lot of people,” said state Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Berkeley, the bill’s primary sponsor. “California is in so much trouble right now with their taxes and their deficit, I’d like to give the film industry from California an incentive to come to South Carolina.”

No lawmaker spoke in opposition to the bill. But after Tuesday’s meeting, state Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, said he has a problem with approving tax rebates “at a time in which we need all the resources we can get.”

“(The money) is taken from somewhere and, in all likelihood, from education,” Jackson said.

Gov. Nikki Haley, R-Lexington, has opposed tax incentives in the past, including an incentive used to lure online retailer Amazon.com to locate in Lexington County in 2011. Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said Tuesday that if the incentives pass the Legislature, the proposal most likely will change before getting to Haley’s desk, adding, “She’ll take a look at the bill when she gets it.”

“But she has been clear: when it comes to film incentives, or any economic-development incentive package, the benefit should outweigh the cost to the state, and they should be considered on a case-by-case basis," Godfrey said.

From 2007 to 2011, South Carolina paid rebates to nine film productions, including “Army Wives,” the drama series on the Lifetime network, filmed in Charleston, that now is entering its seventh season. The state has paid $21 million in wage and supplier rebates to the productions, according to a 2011 study prepared for the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

That report said that, combined with some other productions aided by the S.C. Film Commission, the film industry generated $86.9 million in sales for state businesses and supported 1,610 jobs that paid $48.5 million in wages.

Still, John DeWorken, a lobbyist with the Carolina Film Alliance, said South Carolina’s film industry is “really nonexistent.”

“You’ve got ‘Army Wives’ and you’ve got some other nickel-and-dime stuff here and there,” he said. “We’re just not utilizing the money set aside to create the capital investment and the jobs that we could.”

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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