Texas film incentive program at risk of being abolished

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin film production crews, vendors and small business owners are coming together to fight for a state program they rely on. The Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program (TMIIIP) was designed to entice big productions to do business in Texas, creating local jobs and spurring the economy. It’s used to attract television, video game and film productions to the state.

In 2013, the program got a big boost from the legislature, over $90 million, the largest dollar amount since the program was created in 2005.

“Our production went through the roof, it was almost four times the amount of spend in Texas,” said Mindy Raymond, Executive Director of the Texas Motion Picture Alliance (TXMPA). “If we don’t get this program fully funded this next session it’s going to be devastating to the crews, the talent, the companies that are based here in Texas.”

Then in 2015, the dollar amount was slashed to about $32 million. Raymond says it had an immediate impact on productions doing business in Texas. TXMPA is aware of more than $440 million in lost production over six months, and says it could be even more.

Now, the incentive program is at risk of being abolished completely after three separate bills were filed by Republican lawmakers. State Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, and state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Fort Worth, and Sen. Bob Hall, R-Canton, have all put forth legislation that would end the program.

We reached out to all three lawmakers and received a response from Sen. Burton. While she sees the financial value of the industry, she doesn’t believe the government should pay for it.

“I have filed legislation to end the Moving Image Industry Incentive Program because it is not the proper role of government to subsidize an industry,” Burton said in an email. “The state has a finite amount of resources and any diversion from the core functions of state government — education, transportation, water infrastructure, public safety — is a misuse of those resources. We must prioritize our budget and corporate welfare programs should be amongst the first expenses to go,” said Sen. Burton.

But locals in the business say the move would hurt the Texas economy and jobs, forcing small businesses to make tough decisions.

“When those projects were forced to go other places because that’s where the incentive money was, our business decreased almost overnight,” said Meredith Stephens, vice president of Business Development for MPS Studios.

They’ve lost businesses to other states with incentive programs, like New Mexico, Louisiana, Atlanta and Mississippi.

“What I would say to legislators is please, please, please find the value in our industry and know we’re talking about Texas residents and Texas state spend,” said Stephens.

TXMPA is working to re-brand the incentive program, to clear up misunderstandings.

“A lot of what we’re doing is educating how our program works, it’s a rebate program, not an incentive or a handout, and it really does affect the local economy, It creates jobs for Texans, and brings money into local business,” said Raymond.

She and many others in the industry say the program is worth funding and fighting for.

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