Taxing Times for Film and Music
Council looks to raid the budget intended to bring creative jobs to Austin
First the Legislature cut support for film and music. Now City Council may do the same, with the proposed hotel occupancy tax swap potentially raiding the budget intended to bring creative jobs to Austin.
The Council is currently considering moving cash collected from hotel stays away from current spending to heritage sites, and one line item being eyed for reduction is Visit Austin. As the name suggests, the program's purpose is to attract visitors and investors to Austin. Still technically dubbed the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau, the office includes the Austin Film Commission, the Sports Commission, and the Austin Music Office, as well as tourism marketing, and the Convention Center sales offices. The proposal is to pull up to $11 million out of the current $15.4 million annual operating budget – coming after a 15% cut passed by Council last year. At their Aug. 31 meeting, the reduction was sold as cutting programs without cutting staff. But what is the point of having staff if they don't have anything to do? Without funding, the offices would have to cut essential operations like attending trade shows and promotional materials.
The plan could deliver a particularly brutal blow to film and TV production in the city, already pummeled after the Legislature dramatically cut funding for the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program. The Film Commission estimates that the Austin area has lost over $200 million in production since 2015 due to those cuts (see "Numbers Don't Lie, Film Rebates Work," May 25). So the commission is expected to fill the gap in attracting production. But the proposed HOT switch could hamstring core tasks like location scouting, and meetings with producers who could bring jobs to Austin. As one source close to the negotiations put it: What the Legislature did was bad, but what Council is planning could prove more damaging.