- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 16, 2015

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - It’s a wrap for Alaska’s film tax credit program.

Gov. Bill Walker on Monday signed into law legislation repealing the program, established in 2008 as a way to encourage the growth of the film industry in Alaska. More than $50 million in credits have been paid out since 2009, when the program took off, and an estimated $30 million in preapproved credits are pending that the state has said it is committed to honoring, the former executive director of the Alaska Film Office, Kelly Mazzei, said Tuesday.

Before lawmakers approved the bill repealing the program in April, it appeared on track to be idled; Walker, in his budget proposal, did not include funding for the three film office positions, and the administration recommended the film office be deleted as the state grappled with ways to cut costs amid projected multibillion-dollar deficits.

All three have found other state jobs; Mazzei is in a section of the Department of Revenue that has been charged with handling any residual duties tied to the tax credit program, she said.

In a release Tuesday, Walker said he supports the film industry in Alaska but the state is facing unprecedented financial times. He said it’s hard to justify continuing the program at a time when at least two trooper stations are slated for closure.

The program had been scheduled to expire in 2018, and Walker said he didn’t see oil prices rebounding before then. Alaska relies heavily on oil revenues to fund government operations, and low oil prices have exacerbated Alaska’s budget deficit.

Walker’s office said the state commerce department still would provide production assistance by connecting directors and producers with Alaska contractors and location scouts. The state will continue working with the Alaska Film Group, a nonprofit trade association, and look for ways to ensure that any film work done in Alaska “takes full advantage of Alaskans working in that field,” Walker said.

Deborah Schildt serves on the board of the Alaska Film Group and is a production manager with Piksik, LLC, a film and television production support service company. She said the film tax credit program was a tool the state had to diversify its economy and create job opportunities. The program was revamped several years ago but never really allowed to prove itself out, Schildt said, noting that legislation seeking to cancel the program was introduced on the heels of that.

“That sent a chill not just down to Hollywood but around the world. Producers look for incentives, but they also look for a stable film environment,” she said. When legislation is continually introduced that threatens to end the program, there are questions about how stable the program is, she said.

Sen. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, sponsored the bill that passed this year and proposed similar measures while previously serving in the House.

Carolyn K. Robinson, owner and executive producer with the production and production services company SprocketHeads, said by email that many lawmakers could not grasp that the film program “wasn’t about Hollywood coming in but rather Alaskans being able to stay home.” Her husband, Steve Rychetnik, is a cinematographer, and they just gave his agent the OK to start booking him out of state to shoot films and TV shows, she said.

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