Tuesday, June 1, 2010

NM paid out $181 million in film tax credits over nearly three years

by Trip Jennings

New Mexico can be found a lot on the big and little screen these days. Watch AMC’s critically acclaimed Breaking Bad, featuring two-time Emmy winner Bryan Cranston, and there are the Sandias. It’s hard to tell, but, yep, there’s Galisteo in Legion, a thriller with a God-is-angry-with-humanity-so-here-comes-the-apocalypse storyline that was released earlier this year.

That steady activity of film and TV shoots is raising New Mexico’s profile in Hollywood as several films or TV series shot here have racked up Oscar and Emmy awards in recent years. But the bigger profile is also raising the amount of money New Mexico is paying out to film and TV productions through a controversial tax credit program.

Over the past 33 months, 118 film and TV productions were paid $181 million through the program, including $60 million this fiscal year, state documents show.

This year’s payout appears likely to eclipse the $61,464,418.56 New Mexico doled out last year. This year’s total –$60,519,012.63 — was through April 14, more than two months shy of June 30, the end of the fiscal year, documents show.

The film tax credit program is wearing a bigger bulls-eye these days as New Mexico’s lagging economy, and a strained state budget, add urgency to critics’ calls for an end to the program.

Citing pared-down state services, higher unemployment and forced state worker furlough days — most state workers took their fifth, and final, furlough day of the fiscal year Friday, opponents say 2010 isn’t the time to be handing out money.

“We’re cutting services, furloughing state employees. And we’re sending tens of millions of dollars to Hollywood. That ain’t right. It’s wrong,” said first-term Rep. Dennis Kintigh, R-Roswell.

Kintigh, along with two top Senate Democrats, has emerged as a vocal critic of the program, citing worries about the state paying an industry to do business here at a time when New Mexico is hurting.

“We’re told if we don’t provide these incentives they will pack up and leave. If that’s the case the industry doesn’t have any roots here,” Kintigh said. “We don’t do that for the newspapers or the TV business.”

Doing away with the program is short-sighted, advocates say. The tax credits go toward reimbursing a portion of money production companies already have spent here in New Mexico, not to subsidize Hollywood.

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