Proposed limit on Georgia film tax credit could become meaningless if studios are protected

ATLANTA (AP) — Some Georgia lawmakers are having second thoughts about limiting the value of the state’s lucrative film tax credit.

The Senate Finance Committee voted narrowly on Wednesday to rewrite parts of House Bill 1180, which is aimed at creating limits. The bill would still require moviemakers to spend more in the state to max out the film tax credit. But it would exempt movies mostly made at large studios in Georgia from a proposed cap on how many tax credits could be cashed in by selling them to others.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Hufstetler, a Rome Republican, said he thought the exemption for Georgia studios would be so significant that remaining productions that don’t use large Georgia studios would never hit the cap, although it remains in the committee’s version of the bill.

“There’s essentially not a cap on it,” Hufstetler told The Associated Press after the meeting. “I think there are some constraints that perhaps are needed on there. But I think at the end of the day, it’s not going to really make a lot of difference.

Hufstetler said movie interests had negotiated the proposal with Lt. Gov. Burt Jones.

The measure moves on to the full Senate for more debate, and if it passes there, senators would have to work out their differences with the House before Georgia’s legislative session ends next week. The bill’s House sponsor, Republican Rep. Kasey Carpenter of Dalton, said House leaders would have to discuss their position.

“I think the industry should be pretty pleased,” Carpenter said.

Thanks in large part to tax breaks, productions including “The Hunger Games,” the Marvel movies, the Fast & Furious installment “Furious 7” and many others shot in Georgia have made the Peach State a hub for movies and television shows that might otherwise have been shot in Hollywood.

The program has supported thousands of Georgia jobs and the building of studios. But it’s hugely expensive — the state is projected to give out $1.35 billion in credits this year alone. State-sponsored evaluations show the credit’s cost outweighs its economic benefit. A study last year by Georgia State University suggested the state saw a return of less than 20 cents on the dollar.

Most production companies don’t have enough state income tax liability to use all the credits and they can’t be redeemed for cash. Production companies can sell the credits to other people who owe taxes in Georgia, usually at a slight discount.

But lawmakers had grown concerned that billions of dollars in tax credits are outstanding, fearing they could all be cashed in at once. In 2022, the state auditor estimated $1.4 billion in such taxes were outstanding.

The House had proposed limiting the transfers of tax credits to 2.5% of the state budget, or about $900 million this year. The Senate bill actually lowers that cap to 2.3%, or about $830 million, but it would only apply to productions that don’t use studios. Any studio with more than 1.5 million square feet (140,000 square meters) would be exempt, as well as any studio completed between now and 2027 that invests at least $100 million.

“I think it’s a big number,” Carpenter said. “I think it’s a much bigger number than what left the House.”

What remains in the Senate bill are requirements to do more to get the top 30% tax rate. Now, credits start at 20% of production spending, but rise to 30% if a movie or television show displays Georgia’s peach logo.

Now, to get the 30% credit rate, productions would have to meet four of nine requirements, such as hiring a crew that is at least half Georgia residents, having half of all vendors be Georgia-based companies, spending at least $30 million in the state, or spending at least half the days shooting in counties where few movies have been filmed.

As amended, companies would be eligible to claim the credit if they spend at least $750,000 on a single production or spend at least $8 million over multiple productions in a year. Some independent filmmakers and producers of commercials say that might exclude them. But the committee rejected an attempt to cut the cumulative spending requirement to $3.5 million.

Jeff Amy covers Georgia politics and government.