Texas senators slam film incentives program

The Texas Film Commission was likened to a “central planning” agency on Tuesday, with some state lawmakers calling the incentives it disburses to lure in movie, television and video-game productions a form of corporate welfare.

The comments came at a Legislative hearing over one of several bills filed during the current session that would abolish both the flim commission and its incentives program.

About two dozen advocates for the movie, TV and video-game sectors testified during the hearing that such a move would be devastating and cause Texas to relinquish its place as a hotbed for creative industries because it no longer would be competitive with other states and countries that offer such incentives. Already, they said, many productions have left the state because of a lack of support.

John Moore, a film editor for Austin production company Rooster Teeth and an independent filmmaker, pointed out the irony of the discussion taking place under the Capitol dome at a time when the internationally ballyhooed SXSW interactive festival was revving up nearly within earshot.

“All you have to do is walk about five blocks and wait a few seconds” to see the economic impact of the film and software industries on the Texas economy, Moore told the senators.

Only one person showed up at the hearing Tuesday to testify in favor of eliminating the incentives.

The program — known as the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program — offers qualifying projects rebates of up to 20 percent on money they spend in Texas. Supporters of the incentives contend they have created $5.55 in economic value for every dollar disbursed.

About $32 million was budgeted for the program during the state’s current two-year budget cycle, down substantially from $95 million during the 2014-15 biennium. House and Senate budget writers have earmarked a total of $10 million for it during the 2018-19 cycle, although Gov. Greg Abbott, a supporter of the program, has requested about $72 million.

Meanwhile, the program has been in the crosshairs of some Republican lawmakers who want to get rid of it entirely.

”It is not the proper role of government to be meddling with the free-market system,” said state Sen. Bob Hall, R-Rockwall, who introduced SB 99, which was the topic of Tuesday’s hearing. Hall said he has been “absolutely appalled” by some of the films awarded incentives under the program, citing “Friday the 13th” and “the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

State Sen. Konni Burton, R-Fort Worth, called the program “kind of central planning” and said money spent on it would have resulted in economic development anyway had it been left in the pockets of taxpayers. Burton has sponsored SB 244, which is similar to Hall’s bill.

But state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, disagreed, saying the program “is just an incredible investment” for the state.

During the hearing, Moore criticized Hall’s focus on two slasher films as indicative of the moral caliber of Texas films, telling him the state can be proud of many highly acclaimed movies shot within its borders. One of them, “The Thin Blue Line,” actually “got a man off death row,” Moore said.

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