The upcoming Fred Rogers biopic, “You Are My Friend,” starring Tom Hanks, has been a benefactor of the program. So, too, has “Creed,” a film that is part of the “Rocky” film franchise.
More than a dozen speakers gave testimony to the Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee recently on the state’s film tax credit program, which was created in 2007 in its existing iteration as a part of Act 55.
All of the speakers offering up testimony at the House panel’s hearing supported the film tax credit program, citing job creation and tourism opportunities, among other benefits that have helped fortify the state’s economy in the past dozen years.
At its core, Pennsylvania’s film tax credit program offers film producters a 25 percent rebate on productions taking place within the state, so long as 60 percent of a list of expenses are incurred within its borders.
In her remarks before the committee, Carrie Fischer Lepore, deputy secretary for marketing, tourism and film in the Pennsylvania Department of Community Economic Development, said the state has approved $812 million in tax credits to film companies since the program’s launch.
“More than $3 billion has been directly invested in Pennsylvania’s economy by the film industry,” Fischer Lepore said in her testimony. “This investment has resulted in a total economic impact approaching $5 billion – a total that includes the projected impact for productions awarded tax credits this current fiscal year.”
While there was widespread praise for the program and its continuation within the confines of the recent Democratic House panel hearing, criticism of the program has been shared in other corners.
In 2017, for example, analysts with public policy organization the Commonwealth Foundation weighed in on the tax credit program and its overall impact on Pennsylvania.
Citing the state’s overall budgetary shortfall issues, Commonwealth Foundation analysts James Paul and Kris Malysz took aim at the program. In a statement, Paul and Malysz described the program as a “corporate welfare program.”
“Fundamentally, the film tax credit is bad economics,” Paul and Malysz wrote. “The jobs it creates are relatively few and never permanent. It has largely failed to seed a permanent, successful native industry in Pennsylvania to work with outside studios.”
Other speakers at the Oct. 31 hearing, however, called on lawmakers to not only maintain, but expand, the program as the proliferation of entertainment options continues to evolve and expand with new streaming services on the horizon.
Sharon Pinkenson, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, said expanding the amount of available credits would be beneficial in the state, which hosts what Pinkenson described as having “two thriving production locations in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.”
Having an uncapped tax credit program, Pinkenson said, would make Pennsylvania more attractive to a broader range of film producers.
“Pennsylvania is missing the truth about the impacts of the film and television industry,” Pinkenson said in her testimony. “Many of our colleagues think that the tax credits go to movie stars and that the film industry isn’t nearly as important as construction projects or convention centers.”
Pinkenson and a number of other speakers emphasized a jobs component in their recent testimony. From her vantage point, Pinkenson said she believed more jobs would be created if Pennsylvania lawmakers lifted the cap on credits awarded.