Bill would increase taxpayer subsidies for series that shoot in state
In a show of true grit, one legislator may have engineered a compromise to accelerate interest in New Mexico’s movie and television industry.
State Rep. Antonio Maestas said industry executives and Gov. Susana Martinez’s staff were reviewing his bill, which would increase taxpayer rebates for television series that shoot in New Mexico.
Maestas, D-Albuquerque, above, said he was optimistic that he could win over the governor because total payouts for moviemakers and TV producers would still average no more than $50 million a year.
His proposal, House Bill 379, is scheduled to be heard Monday by the House Taxation and Revenue Committee.
Maestas’ bill is bold in that it would pay higher subsidies to television series than to movies.
He said the return to taxpayers is greater from TV shows such as “Breaking Bad,” which had a five-year run in Albuquerque, than for a movie that shoots in the state for a few weeks.
Under current state law, moviemakers and television executives receive a 25 percent tax credit from the state on qualified production expenses. It means that a filmmaker who spends $60 million in New Mexico would receive a $15 million rebate from the state treasury.
Maestas’ bill would leave movie rebates unchanged at 25 percent but increase the subsidy to 30 percent for TV productions with commercial distribution of at least six episodes.
Another feature of Maestas’ bill would allow unspent money for TV and movie rebates from one year to carry over to the next.
For instance, if the state paid out $40 million in rebates this year, another $10 million would be added to the program for 2014.
Because the state would still have a precise annual payout to budget for, Maestas said, he believed his bill could satisfy both the Legislature and the governor.
State Sen. Phil Griego announced two weeks ago that he would sponsor a bill to eliminate the $50 million cap, a move to signal to Hollywood that New Mexico wanted all the business it could offer.
But Griego, D-San Jose, so far has not followed through. He has until the Thursday deadline for introducing legislation if he still wants to try to end the cap.
Martinez in 2011 favored an annual limit on movie and TV rebates so the state could budget for them, not be blindsided if payouts soared to six figures in a single year. That led to the cap.
Griego said it would be the job of the Legislature to persuade her that limiting rebates is costing the state money and jobs.
His logic was that, if moviemakers and TV producers received $50 million in tax credits one year, they spent $200 million in New Mexico. He said the cap merely stopped more TV and movie ventures from choosing New Mexico to do business.
Former state Rep. Dennis Kintigh, R-Roswell, was a fierce critic of the rebate program. He said it actually hurt the state economy because the job benefits of TV series and movies were exaggerated.
For instance, if a set designer works four months a year on three different movies, is that one part-time job or three jobs? Kintigh said there was anecdotal evidence that movies and TV series were good for the economy but little hard data to back up the claims.
For Maestas, movies and TV shows are a clean and growing industry for the state.
He said he was convinced that TV productions and movies such as “True Grit” and “The Lone Ranger” helped the state’s economy. Maestas said these enterprises also were a pathway to careers for many young New Mexico residents.
Legislators in 2011 approved a law mandating a thorough analysis of the economic pluses and minuses of subsidizing TV series and movies. But Martinez’s administration has yet to do the analysis required by the legislation.
That breakdown has kept alive an ongoing debate of how helpful movie rebates are to the state economy.