That number has now grown to 44 states, according to a recent report by the Tax Foundation in Washington.
But incentives are being targeted nationwide as state legislatures deal with budget shortfalls and look for additional sources of revenue.
New Mexico, which offers one of the country’s most generous film incentives, is contemplating an annual cap after granting film tax credits worth $82 million in fiscal year 2009.
Iowa’s program was briefly suspended after an investigation showed a few producers were keeping Mercedes-Benz and Range Rover vehicles bought with that state’s film rebate money.
Gray Frederickson, an Oscar-winning producer who is now Artist in Residence at Oklahoma City Community College, said Oklahomans aren’t yet jaded by film productions like they are in other states.
"That’s the great thing about Oklahoma,” Frederickson said. "The whole state is like a wonderful big back lot right now; the state bends over backwards to help you. We’re getting some good filmmakers in who can get some savings from the rebates.”
Simpson said she’s proud of the safeguards built into Oklahoma’s film rebate program. In addition to the $5 million cap, it has audit requirements for producers.
The Film Office also established rules to make sure producers meet deadlines for financing and production.
Producers whose projects fail to secure financing in time are dropped from the program and can’t reapply until the next year.
"We want this program to be around for the long haul,” Simpson said. "We care about the taxpayers’ dollars. That’s our first priority, and I tell producers that when they come in.”
Tightening up tax credits?
Burris received approval from the Oklahoma Tax Commission to use the rural small business venture capital credit for film production in 2006. Burris and Simpson said the tax credits helped attract film production to Oklahoma while the state’s film rebate was at 15 percent and other states were offering more generous packages.
"The Indion investment made Oklahoma viable as a production state because it gave us just enough of a financial nudge to be considered along with New Mexico and Louisiana,” Burris said in an e-mail.
State Treasurer Scott Meacham said lawmakers have tried twice to tighten up the legislation that governs the small business and rural small business venture capital tax credits. He said those tax credits have been used for some good projects, such as hospitals. But they’ve also been subject to abuse because they lack defined cost-benefit analyses.
"Are we paying for some economic activity that would be going on anyway in our state?” Meacham asked.
"We need to get back to the drawing board on these and put some mechanisms in place. But until we can get that done, we need to close the barn door.”
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