Illinois Losing Movie Mojo?

Michigan luring films away with tax credits, but is it worth it?

It's always fun to see Chicago as the setting on the big screen, especially in blockbusters like The Dark Knight, but with no films scheduled to be shot in Illinois in 2009 after a nice, long run, a film production lobbying group is calling on state lawmakers to extend and revise a tax incentive designed to lure Hollywood here that expires at the end of the year.

The Illinois Production Alliance says that the expiring tax incentive combined with a generous new law in Michigan is giving that state the new movie mojo of the Midwest.

"We're hemorrhaging dollars, literally, to Michigan right now," Lars Ullberg, president of the Illinois Production Alliance, told the Tribune.

The Michigan Film Office says 56 films have been booked since it passed a 42 percent tax rebate plan for filmmakers in April, including movies by Clint Eastwood and Drew Barrymore that were recently shot there.

But at least a couple Illinois lawmakers sound cautious about going as far as Michigan, and a New York Times story over the weekend explains why: "Michigan, its own budget sagging, is in the middle of a hot political fight over a generous 40 percent rebate on expenditures to filmmakers that was carried out, with little opposition, only last April. Producers of films for studios like Warner Brothers and the Weinstein Company rushed to cash in, just as homegrown businesses were squeezed by a new business tax and surcharge. Rebellious legislators from both parties are now looking to put a cap on the state’s annual film spending, which some have estimated could quickly hit $200 million a year."

The trend, the Times reports, is away from packages like the one Michigan offers.

“There’s no evidence yet that this is a particularly efficient or effective way to create jobs,” said Noah Berger, executive director of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, tells the Times.

“There’s no way you can say this makes money for the public," says Greg Albrecht, chief economist for Louisiana’s legislative fiscal office.

And even in Michigan, regret seems to be setting in.

"Not so happy are some folks up in Michigan, where a State Senate committee recently moved to cap the state’s film rebates at an aggregate of $50 million a year," the Times reports.
“'It’s just horrible right now,' Mike Bishop, a Republican state senator, said of Michigan’s financial condition. Mr. Bishop initially backed the film incentive. But he grew alarmed at outlays that he estimated could quickly exceed $110 million a year to subsidize movies like Gran Torino, directed by Clint Eastwood and Youth in Revolt, a comedy by the filmmaker Miguel Arteta."

As the Times says, "[T]he glamour business has not always been kind to those who pick up the costs."

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