How is the film incentive proposal doing in the General Assembly in Nashville? According to one insider, not that well.
Here's the deal: Those of us in the film community see the incentives as a license for the state to print money, and we figure that angle alone should be enough to convince legislators. There are other arguments as well: filmmaking is a clean industry and it brings prestige and positive attention to the state. The Memphis Flyer recently reported that the Memphis & Shelby County Film and Television Commission and the Memphis Music Foundation commissioned a study that projected new incentives could mean an economic impact of $400 million statewide and create over 6,000 jobs.
But lawmakers who are presently trying to decide if they can justify allocating the $19 million expenditure proposed by the Tennessee film and TV coalition are dealing with many other interests who want a piece of the budget pie. Although $19 million may not seem like much in the grand scheme ("Walk the Line" was a $29 million film), it still has to compete with current legislative concerns:
--Health care is one expensive issue getting a lot of attention and the General Assembly is far from decided on how much will be spent.
--The Senate Transportation Committee wants to restore $65 million to the highway fund that was borrowed a few years ago to balance a state budget shortfall. Gov. Phil Bredesen wants to return it in installments -- $22 million a year for the next three years. What happens to that nearly $44 million difference is affecting how legislators think about the film incentives expenditure.
There has been lobbying for the film incentive proposal. Film commissioners from around the state, including our own Linn Sitler, have been tireless is buttonholing lawmakers. David J. Bennett, executive director of the Tennessee Film, Entertainment & Music Commission, has been doing the same. Knoxville actor David Keith has been making the rounds and reportedly has impressed the legislators with his pitch.
But the legislative insider I spoke to felt that the chances don't look good for passage in light of these competing issues. There are also numerous lobbyists -- many working full time -- who have been working the General Assembly for years for their own clients. (Want to see how many? Go here.)
However worthy film incentives might be, it is, as an issue, a relative newcomer at Legislative Plaza and lawmakers, who tend to first things first, may feel that as an issue it doesn't get to move to the front of the line.
Can you do anything about it? Yes, you still have the ear of the governor and your individual representative and senator. See the posting below ("This means YOU") to get more info on how to find your elected officials. Write each of them in your own words -- form letters and statements copied and pasted from other sources won't help -- and let them know how important this issue is to you.
There is still time as the horsetrading in Nashville gets pretty intense in the last weeks of the General Assembly's session. But don't delay. Now would be good.