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Opinion: State's film tax credit needs tweaks but not tossing
09282017 STATE CAPITOL
Georgia's state Capitol in Atlanta. - photo by Associated Press

Among the many other tasks on their legislative agenda, state lawmakers during this year’s session of the General Assembly will need to tighten controls on the tax credit program for Georgia’s booming movie and television industry.

Results of a state audit released earlier this month show widespread evidence of abuse within the program, meaning that taxes were not collected in some instances where they should have been, and the state suffered a revenue loss as a result.

Much attention has been paid to the audit, which found the state has lost millions due to improper application of the tax credits, though an exact dollar figure has not been applied to the potential losses.

So, obviously, the program needs cleaning up, with more controls, oversight and accountability.

But it’s important not to go overboard in rectifying the situation. Let’s not, as Sen. Butch Miller so adroitly said, “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

The Times editorial board

Staff members

  • Norman Baggs, general manager
  • Shannon Casas, editor in chief

Community members

  • Cheryl Brown
  • David George
  • Mandy Harris
  • Brent Hoffman
  • J.C. Smith
  • Tom Vivelo

Georgia has a very generous tax credit program for the movie/TV industry; it is perhaps the most generous of any of the 32 states that offer some sort of tax incentives to those in the movie business. And it goes a long way toward explaining why movie and TV production have exploded in the state in recent years, bringing billions in positive economic impact with it.

The credit program provides tax breaks to production companies for a variety of different factors, ranging from the number of workers employed in the state to the materials purchased to whether the state marketing logo is used in the final product. There is no cap on how much can be earned in tax credits, and the credits awarded can be transferred, so that if they are earned by a company that might not otherwise be paying taxes in Georgia they can be transferred to one that would.

It is a complicated process, and clearly from findings of the state audit it has loopholes big enough to drive camera trucks through. Those who failed to properly monitor the program should be held accountable. 

But it is not bad law in theory and needs surgical tweaking, not eliminating.

A pet project of former Gov. Nathan Deal, the tax incentives have sparked growth in a segment of the state’s economy that has grown tremendously in recent years. It is hard not to find a section of Georgia that has not recently benefited in some fashion from movie or television production efforts, and the Gainesville and north Georgia area have certainly seen their share and more of screen time.

While production companies themselves bear much of the blame for claiming tax credits where they shouldn’t have been applied, the state also has to shoulder some of the responsibility for lost revenue for failing to adequately monitor and police the process. Lesson learned, now let’s fix the problem and move on.

There is no doubt many of us have wearied of “Hollywood players” chastising us for some of the state’s political positions and sharing their opinions on how we should change to be better. But those are usually just a few strident voices who do not necessarily speak for the hundreds of people involved in the industry as a whole in the state.

The reality is, the influx of movie and television production work and the billions generated by its presence in the state have spurred new career paths and business opportunities that did not exist a decade ago. Colleges all over Georgia are offering programs to prepare young people for careers in production work; sound stages and studios have been built and continue to be planned; jobs have been created that never existed before in Georgia.

We need to build on that reality, not endanger it by overreacting to what should be remediable tax collection problems.

While the state tax credit program for movie and television production work involves millions of dollars annually, it is far from the only tax credit offered in the state. A quick review of information on the website of the state revenue department shows dozens of tax credits available to support a wide and diverse variety of initiatives and efforts.

Tax credits are available for job creation, educational opportunities for employees, employer-sponsored child care, development of low-income housing, economic development efforts and the purchase of low emission vehicles, just to name a few of many.

Clearly, the state uses tax credits in a lot of different ways to convince businesses to invest in Georgia, and to considerable success given the state’s reputation for being business friendly and creating jobs in order to grow and stabilize the economy.

It would not be surprising to learn that other tax credit programs beyond just those that benefit movies and television are in need of tightening up and more supervision, but that does not mean they aren’t worth keeping and fixing.

Georgia is moving to the top of the movie and television world. That is a good thing. Let’s fix the tax credits, make sure the state gets the revenue it should be getting, and keep the cameras rolling.

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