- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - In the film “Dear White People,” actress Tessa Thompson stands next to the regal brick facade of a building on her fictional Ivy League campus, on the verge of protesting with her classmates. But the scene wasn’t filmed at Harvard or Yale - she was standing in the shadow of Folwell Hall at the University of Minnesota.

With state funding for the “Snowbate” film incentives on the chopping block, that 2014 movie is one of many films that advocates argue wouldn’t have been shot in Minnesota without the rebates offered to production companies.

Lawmakers on the Republican-controlled House jobs committee were finalizing a proposed economic employment bill Tuesday that would cut the program’s funding for 2017 and propose it go unfunded in the next two-year budget as well. Funding has been as high as $5 million annually and as low as $500,000.

The program allows companies that spend more than $1 million to receive a rebate for up to 25 percent of what they spend in Minnesota. Film, television and union workers say those incentives are necessary to draw companies to the state and create jobs.

“They will not be filming here,” said Lucinda Winter, the executive director of the Minnesota Film and TV Board. “It’s become such an important part of their financing package that when states lose an incentive, people leave immediately.”

But some lawmakers say there are more effective ways for the state to fund job creation. Rep. Pat Garofalo, chairman of the House jobs committee, said Minnesota could look instead at funding initiatives that help alleviate unemployment by geographic and racial disparity.

“From my economic development perspective, there are other programs that give us a better bang for the buck,” Garofalo said.

Defunding the program will face some pushback from the Democratic-controlled Senate and Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration.

In the Senate, lawmakers have proposed increasing funding by over $5 million. Sen. David Tomassoni, who chairs the economic development committee, said the Snowbate program is “extremely important” and helps spur job growth for industries across Minnesota. State economic development commissioner Katie Clark Sieben also said her department does not want to see the program stripped of funding.

At the House jobs committee meeting Monday night, dozens of actors, producers and workers with jobs tied to the film industry tried to make the case to lawmakers that the program and the Minnesota Film and TV Board are vital to keeping the film and commercial industry in Minnesota.

Eric Stolhankse, an actor and filmmaker who has appeared in films like “Super Troopers,” told the committee it would be an “absolute shame” to repeal the Snowbate program. Stolhankse, chairman of the Film and TV board, said the program has created 3,000 jobs and $50 million of private spending in the state over the last three years. He said he loves to work in Minnesota, but that it’s only possible because of Snowbate.

“Without tax incentives, I’ll be forced to have to go somewhere else, and I’d love to be able to make movies and television shows here,” he said.

Efforts have stalled in the past, but Garofalo said he thinks there’s a “pretty good” chance the funding will be moved elsewhere this year.

“It’s about funding what’s necessary versus funding what’s nice,” he said.

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