WisBusiness: Tax credit for films could be on way out

By JR Ross

The state would eliminate its film tax credit program and replace it with a grant program for film and video companies that create “permanent jobs in Wisconsin.”

Commerce Department Executive Assistant Zach Brandon said the proposal would refocus the program on what it was intended to do — create jobs in Wisconsin. He said there are problems with the current program, pointing to an agency analysis about the Johnny Depp film “Public Enemies” that was shot in Wisconsin last year. It found the state barely came out ahead on the $5 million in tax credits the film received and the film only created five full-time equivalent jobs in the state.

He said the $500,000 a year in grants would go to Wisconsin-based, bricks and mortar companies, including video game development.

“We want to focus on Wisconsin films, we want to focus on Wisconsin jobs and we want these tax credits to stay in the state of Wisconsin and not end up in Hollywood,” Brandon said.

During a Thursday press conference, a reporter said he talked to a film producer who was planning to bring a $6 million production to the state, but won’t come if the credit is eliminated.

Asked if eliminating the credit is a good thing in light of the producer’s comments, Gov. Jim Doyle deadpanned, “It probably saved us a lot of money.”

“Can anybody seriously justify that we should be laying out $4 million for one movie that comes here that doesn’t produce any long-term jobs for the state, where we end up paying portions of a director’s salary?” he asked. “You know, I’d like to see what that movie finally makes.”

But Lt. Gov. Barb Lawton, a proponent of the credits, said the agency continues to misread the benefits of the program and said the move would essentially shut down a burgeoning film industry in Wisconsin. She said other studies have shown the Depp film included $18 million spent in Wisconsin, for example.

And she ticked off a list of studios that have been set up in various Wisconsin cities because of the film credit program in part because of the incentives created by the film credit.

“It makes no sense to me,” said Lawton, who said she expects lawmakers to try to maintain the program.