Supporters of the state's film tax credit packed a Statehouse hearing to argue against Gov. Charlie Baker's proposal to do away with the decade-old tax break for movie and TV production in Massachusetts.
Baker wants to use the money that would be saved to double the state's earned income tax credit that goes to low-income working families.
Secretary of Economic Affairs Jay Ash told the Legislature's Revenue Committee that for each dollar spent on tax incentives for the film industry, the state gets only 13 cents back in revenue. Administration officials also said nearly two-thirds of film production spending wound up in the hands of non-Massachusetts residents or businesses.
But supporters of the tax credit strongly disagreed, telling lawmakers it has helped create thousands of jobs and boost thousands of small businesses around the state
State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) backs Baker's call to abolish the 25 percent credit, which that pays movie and television producers $250,000 in straight-up cash from the state for every $1 million they spend. Baker, Eldridge and others complain the cost per job created is absurd.
"We have to have an honest discussion about whether the tens of millions of dollars we're spending on the tax credit is the best use of taxpayer dollars," Eldridge said.
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Eldridge says the state's Department of Revenue estimates Massachusetts spends $108,000 per year per job of a subsidy.
"When you think about, to the average (member of the) public, the idea that we're spending $108,000 per year just to create a job, I just think it's a little too generous," Eldridge added.
But Chris O'Donnell of IATSE Local 481, a studio technician's union, contends the $108,000 number is just wrong.
"It underreports the benefits, and it exaggerates the costs, and when you do those two things, you come out with a cost per job which is going to be unusually high, which we believe is not accurate," he said.
Chris Byers and partners invested $35 million in a TV/movie production facility at Devens-based New England Studios. He hopes it can grow to support 1,200 jobs a year.
"It's not only about the tax credit. It is about what the motion picture industry brings and the notoriety it can bring to the state, and those are dollars that you can't measure in a DOR report," he said.