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Film Incentive Finally Passes

You couldn’t have scripted a more nail-biting drama for the local film community. Just when it looked as though the State of Washington’s film incentive program would be left for dead by the House Ways and Means Committee, the bill has made its way to the governor’s desk where, as of press time, it awaits Christine Gregoire’s signature.

“I will not celebrate until it goes into law,” says Washington Filmworks executive director Amy Lillard. “But we are very happy with where it is right now.”

The bill, with the alluring moniker 2ESSB 5539, would reinstate the Motion Picture Competitiveness Program, which expired on July 1, 2011. Since its initial passage in 2006, the arrangement has provided a 30 percent rebate on in-state expenditures for filmmakers and has been key in encouraging local filmmakers and in attracting international productions to the state. Washington Filmworks, the nonprofit tasked with administering the program, claims that in the four years of its existence, the incentive made possible at least 70 projects, resulting in 4,800 jobs and $137 million in economic activity.

“If we ultimately lose the incentive, we wouldn’t just lose all that economic activity,” Lillard says. “We would also likely lose Washington Filmworks, which means that productions wouldn’t have anyone connected with the state that they could contact if they wanted to work here.”

Like many good dramas, the incentive’s comeback hinged on a change of heart by a leading man. After linking the incentive to a doomed housing and homelessness bill last year, Speaker of the House Frank Chopp (D-43rd) received the scorn of the film community. “There were a lot of concerns about giving tax breaks to any people,” he told the Tacoma News Tribune following the bill’s failure during the 2011 session. “These things weren’t necessary for implementing the budget, so we ran out of time.”

Sometime in the last year, Chopp changed his mind. As the 2012 legislative session drew to a close in late February, the bill again looked doomed. But Chopp forced it out of the Ways and Means Committee and onto the House floor for a vote, claiming that the incentive bill was “necessary to implement the budget.”

The House vote was overwhelming and bipartisan, leaning 92-6 in its favor. The Senate version of the bill, passed with fewer dramatics, passed 40-8.

“I think that the votes coming out of the Senate and the House will make a strong argument for the need for the bill to be passed,” Lillard says of the choice now facing the governor.

If the bill is signed, the Motion Picture Competitiveness Program will be safe until June 2017. If the bill goes unsigned, this might just be “the end.”

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