Industry leaders react to proposed film incentive program cuts - WSFX - FOX Wilmington, NC

Industry leaders react to proposed film incentive program cuts

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GOP leaders in Raleigh released some details about the compromise budget deal likely to be voted on this week in the General Assembly GOP leaders in Raleigh released some details about the compromise budget deal likely to be voted on this week in the General Assembly
RALEIGH, NC (WECT/AP) -

Wilmington Regional Film Director Johnny Griffin said he is saddened by a proposal that would reduce the film tax credit to $10 million.

If approved, Griffin said the film industry won't be able to maintain their current level of business, much less grow it with that small amount.

He said the film industry can generate far more than $10 million in tax revenue coming into the state.

"$10 million, we're saddened by that amount," said Griffin about the proposed incentives amount. "It's certainly a very low amount. It's certainly inadequate for us to be able to just maintain our current level of business that we've had here, much less try to think about growing the industry and trying to make it bigger here, so we're certainly disappointed by it."

"It's certainly a tax revenue generator and sure there is a cost to the incentive program, they're looking at putting $10 million in there, but we can certainly generate far more than that in tax revenue coming into the state. So when you start to look at it in that term, that's when you see how inadequate this is," Griffin explained.

Rep. Ted Davis (R-New Hanover) says he's still working to find more money for film incentives as a vote on the proposed final budget looms in the General Assembly later this week.

"The fat lady isn't singing, but she is warming up," Davis said Tuesday as details of the proposed compromise budget agreement filtered out in Raleigh.

Lawmakers will likely vote later this week on the agreement, which was reached by conferees this past weekend. The negotiations extended the General Assembly session longer than many expected it to last.

Rep. Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenberg) and Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) announced some details of the $21.25 billion plan at a news conference Tuesday. In a joint news release from both the Speaker's Office and President Pro-Tem's office, lawmakers say the deal will:

  • Raise pay for public school educators by an average of 7 percent, averaging $3,500 per teacher (moving North Carolina from 46th to 32nd nationally in teacher pay rankings)
  • Preserve Teacher Assistant positions
  • Reform and replace an archaic 37-step teacher pay system with a six-step schedule and a transparent compensation package
  • Preserve current Medicaid eligibility
  • Provide most state employees a $1,000 pay raise and five bonus vacation days
  • Increase pay for step-eligible Highway Patrol Troopers between five and six percent
  • Maintain funding at current levels for the state's university system
  • Fulfill the commitment to extend supplemental pay for teachers with Master's degrees who have completed at least one course in a graduate program as of August 1, 2013
  • Increase early-career teacher pay by 14 percent over the next two years to $35,000 – making North Carolina a leader in the Southeast and fulfilling a promise made by state leaders in February.  

Of particular interest to those in Wilmington is the future of film incentives. The plan includes $10 million for film grants to replace the state's current film incentive tax credit program, which expires at the end of 2014.

"Making positive and historic changes to the status quo isn't easy – and we commend our Senate and House colleagues for their hard work, patience and perseverance in crafting a plan that provides the largest teacher pay raise in state history without raising taxes," said Senate Leader Berger and Speaker Tillis in the news release.

"Investing $282 million in pay raises will make North Carolina competitive nationally and encourage the best and brightest teachers to make a long-term commitment to their profession, our students and our state," Tillis continued.

Bill Vassar, Executive Vice-President of EUE/Screen Gems Studios in Wilmington, expressed disappointment at the proposed amount.

"We are disappointed by the $10 million grant set aside for film in the proposed state budget," Bill Vassar said in an email statement. 

"The legislative session is likely to last another 72 hours. Rep. Ted Davis and other members of the House are working diligently to find additional funding that will keep the North Carolina film industry alive. In the waning moments of the past legislative sessions, film has been recognized as an important economic engine to the North Carolina economy. We are hopeful for similar results in this session before the end of this week," Vassar wrote.

Davis confirmed that he has been working to find more money and isn't pleased with the incentive as it's proposed.

"I'm happy that we got something in the budget, but I'm very disappointed in the amount and that it is a grant program for just six months," Rep. Ted Davis said, adding that "it's devastating that we are playing around with 4200 jobs."

Critics have spoken out about the proposal. In an email statement, Alexandra Forter Sirota, Director of the Budget & Tax Center at the NC Justice Center said:

"Budget writers are moving forward with a budget framework that is unsustainable and fiscally irresponsible.  They ignored the state's revised revenue estimates which show that the tax cuts passed last year are costing the state much more than lawmakers previously claimed, while primarily benefiting wealthy taxpayers and profitable corporations, not average people. The now projected revenue loss of more than $5 billion over five years from income tax cuts alone means that things people rely on, such as quality education for all children and the rebuilding of strong local economies, are at risk."

There was no immediate response from Governor Pat McCrory's office on the budget proposal. McCrory has said recently he would veto any budget proposal that included a pay raise for teachers higher than 6 percent.

According to the news release, the full text of the compromise bill will be available on the General Assembly website on Wednesday.

Copyright 2014 WECT. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed material to this report.

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