By JACK WEATHERLY
Mississippi’s governmental leaders have suggested that the state’s film industry might not need so much help from taxpayers, maybe none at all.
It has been reported that Gov. Phil Bryant has proposed scrapping the whole program.
House and Senate leaders seem to echo that.
Yet what Bryant said in his Executive Budget Recommendation issued on Nov. 15 suggests something less than that.
“Under current law,” Bryant wrote, “the Department of Revenue will stop approving applications for rebates by July 1, 2017,” Bryant wrote.
But the “sunset” provision in Senate Bill 2922 applies only to the rebate of 25 percent of wages for out-of-state residents engaged in movie making.
Other rebates are as follows: 25 percent for money spent in Mississippi and 30 percent of Mississippi cast and crew wages.
A project must have a budget of at least $50,000 and there is a cap of $10 million per project and $20 million for an entire year.
Yet Bryant also said that because the legislative Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review (PEER) reported in December that the industry returns only 49 cents for every dollar invested, “taxpayers should no longer subsidize the motion picture industry at a loss.”
House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves have cast a skeptical eye on the subsidy program.
Reeves was quoted in the Sun Herald of Biloxi as saying that the film investment has “got to return more to the general fund than it takes out.”
One thing that may have caught the eye of government leaders is that incentive payouts have topped $10 million halfway through fiscal 2o17, which ends June 30, according to the Mississippi Department of Revenue.
The previous high was $5 million for all of fiscal 2016, the department said. Payouts since the incentives started in fiscal 2005 total $28.7 million, department records show.
Half of the fiscal 2017 payout was for “Get on Up,” a biopic about soul singer James Brown that was directed by Mississippian Tate Taylor.
Kathy Waterbury, spokeswoman for the Department of Revenue, said that timing can color incentive payment totals.
For instance, “Get on Up” received $5 million on July 29, 2016, according to department records, though the movie premiered in the summer of 2014.
The industry created an annual average of 1,058 direct and indirect jobs for six fiscal years starting in 2010, according to the PEER report.
Mississippi would not be the first state to scrap its film program. Since 2009, 10 states have ended their incentive programs, according to a June report by the National Association of State Legislatures.
Rick Moore said he has invested millions of dollars in his Mississippi Film Studios in Canton – based solely on the incentives program.
A worst-case scenario of elimination of the entire program would be “catastrophic” for him and the whole industry, Moore said.
Yet, he said his understanding that the out-of-state incentive is what is at stake.
An attempt to contact Ward Emling, director of the Mississippi Film Office, was referred to the governor, under whose authority the office operates as part of the Mississippi Development Authority.
Emling told the Mississippi Business Journal in January that “we very carefully built [the incentives package] over the last 11 or 12 years.”
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