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Taxwatch Report: Florida Should Consider Reviving Film Tax Incentives

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson portrays a retired football star turned financial manager HBO's "Ballers." The series was initially set in Miami, but only two out of the four seasons were filmed in South Florida.

Florida’s share of film and television productions is waning as the state no longer offers tax credits for the industry. A new analysis finds Florida lawmakers may have good reason to reconsider those incentives.

The HBO series “Ballers” starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson was filmed in South Florida for its first two seasons. Then it moved to California – after Florida’s film tax credit program ended in 2016. The show is still going strong, now working on its fifth season.

“’Ballers’ employed more than 2,800 people in Florida, spent over $20-million each season in the South Florida area, and literally picked up and took those jobs and those dollars elsewhere,” says John Lux, executive director of the not for profit Film Florida, a membership based trade association. He’s tired of Florida losing out on productions, especially those that pass off other states as the sunshine state.  “It is gut-wrenching every time we see something portrayed as Florida, and it’s not.”

In the last four years, Lux says more than 60 major projects chose not to come to Florida – or decided to leave - equaling a loss of more than a billion dollars for local economies.

He says, “An average feature film can spend between $250,000 and $300,000 a day in a local community; television series about $150,000 to $200,000 a day.”

Lux says Florida’s great weather and scenery aren’t enough to compete with states like Georgia, for example. Georgia's incentives package includes a 20 percent tax credit for companies that spend at least half a million dollars on film projects. An additional 10 percent is granted if the finished project includes a promotional logo provided by the state. Between 2016 and 2017, Georgia was home to more than 100 films and 150 TV series, which paid out more than two-billion-dollars in wages.

“Through a combinations of the loss of the incentive programs and efforts by other states to offer more incentives to production, Florida’s kind of fallen behind,” says Florida Taxwatch Vice President of Research Bob Nave. He’s lead author of the report, which was paid for in part by Film Florida. “There are opportunities to retool and relaunch an incentive program that would generate a very high economic impact, very high return on the investment, and help restore our film industry.”

Part of the problem with the previous program, Nave says, is that productions were awarded on a first come, first served basis, until no more credits were available. Instead, he says the state should consider each production’s potential return on investment when determining who should get a tax break.

“I think the state would have to develop an incentive program that awarded incentives based on the number of days that a production company was going to film in Florida, the number of Floridians that would be hired as part of the crew or cast, the number of nights hotel rooms are rented, the number of rental cars rented,” Nave says. “So all of these things would be rolled into an economic impact. You compare that to how much you’re investing, and you generate a return.”

During the final year of Florida’s tax cut program in 2016, the report found the film and television industry was responsible for more than 150,000 jobs and $2-billion in wages in Florida.  But Nave says the return on investment was too low for Florida lawmakers to consider extending the tax credit program.

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