Okla. House defeats extension of movie tax credit

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The Oklahoma House defeated legislation Monday that would have extended a tax credit program for the film industry after opponents argued that tax dollars that pay for the program would be better spent on core state services.

House members voted 48-43 for the measure - three short of the 51 votes needed to pass in the 101-member House. Its author, Rep. Todd Thomsen, R-Ada, kept the measure alive by serving notice that he will ask the chamber to reconsider the vote in the future.

Thomsen said the state provides rebates to filmmakers amounting to $1 for every $3 dollars they spend on movie productions in the state, up to a total of $5 million. The program is scheduled to expire on July 1. Thomsen’s bill would extend the credit by 10 years to 2024.

The Oklahoma Film & Music Office, which works to attract the film, television, video, and music industries to Oklahoma, estimates the incentive program had a direct economic impact of $35.1 million last year through spending on items such as catering, housing, set production and lighting for productions, Thomsen said.

Total economic impact, which includes economic activity indirectly related to movie productions, is estimated at $88.9 million.

“It’s been a successful program,” said Thomsen, who said the rebate program is modest compared to those offered by other states. “It is having a positive impact in our state.”

But opponents criticized the program as a wasteful use of tax dollars that could be better spent on such things as public safety and education.

“It’s not our money; it belongs to the taxpayer,” Rep. Dave Dank, R-Oklahoma City, said. “Say no to Hollywood.”

The state film office was closed Monday because of a weekend snowstorm, and a telephone call to Jill Simpson, director of the office, was not immediately returned.

Dank and other opponents said “August: Osage County,” an adaptation of an award-winning play that was released in December, benefited from the credit. Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts were among its big-budget stars, and George Clooney was a producer.

Dank said the state has a lot to offer but that the movie did not portray the state or its people in a constructive way.

“Don’t expect us to pay for a film about a dysfunctional family,” Dank said. “We don’t want any of that.”

Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, called the program a “taxpayer giveaway” that takes tax revenue from across the state but benefits taxpayers only in the specific area where a movie is made.

Rep. James Lockhart, D-Heavener, said lawmakers were being asked to extend the rebate program when the state struggles to provide such basic services as park rangers for state parks.

“How else would you define pork-barrel spending?” Lockhart said.

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