Latvala to push state aid for film, TV industry

Tallahassee Democrat 1/23/16

An influential senator this week said "as loudly as I can" that the state needs to provide assistance for the film and television industry, as lawmakers review Gov. Rick Scott's push for $250 million in business-recruitment incentives.

Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said Thursday that economic development for the film and television industry — a priority of Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice — is now one of his priorities for the 2016 session.

"Other people, we hear a lot about their priorities: the governor's priorities, the speaker's priorities and the president's priorities and other senators' priorities," Latvala said. "Well this is Sen. Detert's last year here. And you know this is an important issue for her. And I'm going to support her on this because I think it's also an important issue for our state. And we can't look at economic development without including it."

Latvala continued — telling "all those in TV land" — that he will fight to pack into all economic-development bills language that Detert has sought involving a film and television incentive program.

Latvala, who is slated to become the Senate's powerful budget chairman after the November elections, has already included the language in a broad economic-development bill (SB 1646) that will go to the Commerce and Tourism Committee on Monday. Detert is chairwoman of that committee.

While considered a placeholder for ongoing economic-development discussions, the bill would also require the Legislature's Office of Economic and Demographic Research and the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability to every three years study the retention of Major League Baseball spring training baseball franchises in Florida; and require the Department of Economic Opportunity to create a foundation that would promote amateur athletic participation for Floridians and help bring in national and international amateur athletic competitions.

As for the film and television industry, the proposal seeks to create the Entertainment Action Fund within the Department of Economic Opportunity and for a film and entertainment commissioner to be named by Enterprise Florida, the state's public-private economic development agency.

The proposal doesn't put an annual amount on the entertainment package, but it would allow the state to pay up to 30 percent of production companies' costs in Florida.

The governor would be able sign off on recommended projects under $2 million. House and Senate leaders would be able to advise the governor on projects between $2 million and $5 million. Projects seeking more that $5 million would have to go before the Joint Legislative Budget Commission, which is made up of House and Senate members.

Detert contends the proposal isn't like a 2010 incentive program in which $296 million was set aside. That money was expected to last five years but instead was quickly depleted as it was awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

Detert termed her proposal "pay as you go," which would only allow money to be available once a company meets its contractual obligations.

Detert added that the prior funding package was "clumsy."

"This new language is a film-reform bill, it's not a film-incentive bill," she said. "It doesn't put money into a previously bad program. It reforms the entire program in order to build film in Florida as an indigenous industry, same as manufacturing, same as any industry that creates jobs."

A number of House members have been skeptical about funding for the film and television industry. And providing funding for film and television production continues to be opposed by the conservative-advocacy group Americans for Prosperity-Florida. The group has been critical of Scott's incentives request and has portrayed the state's film and TV program as a giveaway of "taxpayers' hard-earned money to Hollywood executives."

"It's certainly going to make for added chaos in an already scrutinized debate," Americans for Prosperity-Florida spokesman Andres Malave said in an email Friday. "If the so-called business experts in the governor's office and legislators can't find a way to make incentives work for taxpayers, isn't it time to look at some different ways of promoting economic growth in our state? Regardless of the methodology, government shouldn't be using taxpayers as their personal piggybank to dish out corporate welfare for private industries."

The lack of future funding has made many in the state's film and television industry worry that Florida will continue to lose production to states such as Georgia and Louisiana, which have established more open-ended funding pools for their industry incentive programs.

Chris Ranung, chairman of the Congress of Motion Picture Associations of Florida, said "the possibility to rebuild our industry" will also return businesses that support the production companies "and with it the technicians that are needed to maintain the equipment."