Texans Protest Film Incentive Cut
Change.org petition demands special session to save program
By Richard Whittaker,
7:35PM, Fri. May 29, 2015
Texans have got used to legislative special sessions. Whether it's settling the budget, education, or abortion rights, they've become commonplace. But as the Texas Legislature slashes film incentives, there's a call for Gov. Greg Abbott to bring lawmakers back this summer to save the program.
Technically, there is no such thing as the Texas film incentive program. It's actually the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program, and it includes film, TV, educational videos, commercials, and gaming. That mixture, originally intended to make the program more robust, may now be its downfall, as the new state budget cuts the fund to a third of its current spending.
House Bill 1 appropriates only $32 million for the program for the 2016-17 biennium, a fraction of the $95 million currently in the kitty. That's also dramatically less than the $70 million Abbott had asked for, or the $60 million the House was suggesting. It's still up from the Senate proposal of zero dollars and zero cents, but it's still devastating news for Texas professionals, dependent on the jobs the program brought in.
Financing the program has always been a tricky proposition. When originally established in 2005, lawmakers didn't actually fund it. That didn't come until 2007, when Gov. Rick Perry was key in securing $22 million, rising to $62 million in 2011. Last biennium, the legislature struck a deal whereby the program would receive a portion of hotel occupancy tax, and that ended up swelling the total take to $95 million over the biennium.
And that's where the tension comes in. The Texas Hotel and Lodging Association has argued that the gaming industry doesn't fill their rooms like the more itinerant film business does, and wanted the program split in two. The Entertainment Software Association and the Texas Motion Picture Alliance were in broad agreement, but couldn't agree on how the division should be handled. Punishing both, budget builders cut the fund to a sliver of what it was, and now Texas will have an even tougher time keeping productions from moving out of state.
The new low figure came too late for public protests to have any impact in the regular session, which is scheduled to end on June 1. However, there is already a Change.org petition, asking Abbott to bring lawmakers back for a special session to fill the hole they have created.
Sadly, to call this a long shot is to rate its chances higher than they deserve. As a first term governor, Abbott is unlikely to want to bring lawmakers back from their Summer vacation over anything short of a constitutional crisis. However, it's clear that gutting the program has sparked a wildfire of concerns among the state's creative industries.