Time to Call it a Wrap for Florida Film Incentives

This piece first appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat.

Florida’s unique personality and reputation in America is attributed by some to its strong presence on the nationwide stage of film. Not surprisingly, state governments try to boost businesses, including movie production, by charging them lower taxes. This is exactly what happened across the country in the past two decades, including in Florida.

Florida began a filmmaking incentive program in 2010, at the height of a national “arms race” to subsidize movie production. Forty-four states offered $1.39 billion in various subsidies to the movie industry that year. Florida’s program allocated $297 million to be awarded over the following six years through transferable tax credits, a subsidy that could be used or sold to other film production companies operating in the state. 

This program helped earn Florida a three-out-of-five score from http://www.filmproductioncapital.com, a website that tracks and rates subsidy programs for the industry. Florida’s incentive program ran out of funds two years early, but state legislators are now considering re-funding the program.

For a state like Florida, which is constitutionally bound to keep a balanced budget, investing in films is a tough sell. The goal of TV and film incentives is to bring business into the state, which policymakers claim then generates jobs and stimulates local economies. But research casts doubt on the benefits of these programs to taxpayers and the state. First, it’s not exactly clear how essential the incentives are to filmmakers’ decisions on where to film.

The television show “Ballers” left Florida after funding dried up, and one reporter equated Dwayne Johnson’s leaving Miami for L.A. to Dwayne Wade leaving the Miami Heat for the Chicago Bulls. But “Ballers” is just one example, and not necessarily representative of the true impact on the state. Netflix’s “Bloodline” continued filming in Florida after the incentives dried up. Barry Jenkins decided to shoot the award-winning “Moonlight” after incentives had lapsed, saying: “We couldn’t shoot it anywhere else. We wanted Miami voices and faces. This is the city that created me. Instead of being a reflection of Miami, we wanted it to be Miami.”

The evidence on statewide economic impact appears mixed at best. Florida’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research released a report in 2015 that found a return of just $0.43 for every $1 spent by the state. On the other hand, a study commissioned by the Motion Picture Association of America — in other words, the industry — claimed a return-on-investment between $5.3 and $9.6 for every $1 spent by the state. More research is clearly needed before a definitive conclusion can be reached.

The research surrounding Florida film incentives is incomplete and full of plot holes. To justify spending taxpayer dollars on investing in an industry, more conclusive research is needed about the benefits — if any — from these industry subsidies. Until then, Florida should call it a wrap for film incentives.

Patrick Martin

Patrick Martin is a research assistant in the DeVoe Moore Center at Florida State University, majoring in Economics and Political Science. 

The feature image is from IMDb.

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