Key California Senator Stands By Support for Improved Movie and TV Incentives

Courtesy of Office of Senator Kevin de Leόn

To counter a blog report that he had backed off his support, Sen. Kevin de Leon said he is still an “outspoken champion” of expanding the tax credits.

Only eight days before a hearing of the California Senate Appropriations Committee that is key to the passage of legislation to extend and expand the states' movie and TV financial incentives, the chairman of that committee issued a statement Wednesday reaffirming his support.

"In the interest of protecting good jobs and safeguarding one of our signature industries," said Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), "I’ve long been an outspoken champion for California’s Film and Television Tax Credit, and I’m 100-percent committed to passing an extension and expansion of that credit this year."

The statement comes a day after a blog reported that de Leon, who is set this fall to become President pro Tempore of the Senate, had backtracked on his earlier support for the bill.

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A spokesman for Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra (D-Los Angeles), who authored the bill along with Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), also said de Leon has been and continues to be a strong supporter of the bill.

On Wednesday, Bocanegra spoke to de Leon, who the spokesman said indicated his continuing support. "We will continue to work with him and other stakeholders," said the spokesman, “and we feel good about reaching an agreement.”

This comes at an important juncture for the proposed legislation. There is an Appropriations Committee meeting coming up Monday, but action on the bill is expected at another hearing, Aug. 14. This is one day before a deadline to finalize legislation that must be voted on by the full Senate before the end of August when it goes into recess.

After stalling for months, the authors and backers of the bill must present an exact amount they are asking the state to spend. The legislation has already passed the State Assembly and one other Senate committee. If it is passed by the Appropriations Committee, it would go to the full Senate for consideration.

The issue of how big an investment the state should make is key to the future of the legislation. There is a program currently in place that provides $100 million in annual tax credits to retain and attract movie/TV production. It is widely considered inadequate and, since it was implemented in 2009, it has helped slow the "runaway production" but has not stopped it. States like Georgia, New York and Louisiana, as well as Canada and the U.K., continue to increase the production in their locales at the same time that California has seen a huge loss of work.

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Some backers have been pushing to increase the allocation at least fourfold — to $400 million or more annually — to better compete with states like New York, which spends more than $430 million a year.

However, there are some legislators who oppose the bill and an increase, although there has been no vocal opposition to the current bill to date, except from some groups representing teachers who believe any money spent will come out of the education allocation.

De Leon did say in his statement that he has been meeting with "stakeholders," those who have an interest in the legislation, to see if the "program can and should be strengthened to better ensure its primary objective of job creation and retention.

"When it comes to fueling an engine of job creation with taxpayer dollars," added the senator, " 'good enough' simply isn’t good enough anymore. We have an obligation to taxpayers in every region of this state to ensure we are doing everything in our power to maximize their return on investment.”

On Wednesday, the California Film and Television Alliance — a coalition of unions, producers and businesses, and others — issued a statement in reaction to Leon’s message:

"We are pleased that Senator de León has clearly expressed his strong and unequivocal commitment to passing an expanded and extended California Film and Television production incentive this year. Across the state, working men and women, businesses large and small, local governments and many others who are impacted by the dramatic loss of motion picture and TV production in California are hurting. Having worked with the Senator over the years, we are well aware of his longstanding support for the working men and women of our industry.

"We are equally aware of the importance of his leadership to our effort," added the Alliance statement. "We are eager to discuss with Senator de Leon his thoughts on how the program might be strengthened to ensure its long term success. We look forward to working with him and his colleagues toward the outcome we all want — to keep motion picture production, its jobs and its place as an indelible part of the California culture and heritage here in our state."

At the end of his statement, de Leon signaled his confidence that a bill will be passed: "In the remaining months of this Legislative Session, I will work with my colleagues and stakeholders across the spectrum to make a good program even better — and I have every hope and confidence that we will deliver a smarter, stronger program that will keep the cameras rolling in our State for years to come."

If it passes, the bill would still have to be signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, who has yet to state his position publicly. In the past, he has signed a bill that extended the program, but that was at the $100 million level.

While the governor has shown an interest in programs that keep and create jobs, he also has made clear his fiscal concerns about how much is spent on programs. The governor and his staff are said to be consulting currently with legislative leaders on how much money to allocate to the film and TV incentive program.