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Is the Massachusetts film tax credit worth the cost?

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  January 14, 2011 05:11 PM

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Reviews of the state's film tax credit are in, and they're less than boffo.

A new report released by the Commonwealth's Department of Revenue said a total of 222 jobs were created in 2009 under the program meant to encourage filmmakers to shoot in Massachusetts — at a cost of roughly $325,000 apiece.

Instead of creating employment in Massachusetts, much of the money seems to be lining the pockets of Hollywood stars. The AP reported this week that according to its analysis, $82 million of film spending eligible for credits went to nonresident actors who earned more than $1 million.

Writing on the Globe op-ed page in 2010, Joan Fitzgerald and Peter Enrich said that in a time of budget cuts, the film incentives should be scrapped.

The Commonwealth's expenses can only be justified if they are creating long-term employment here in Massachusetts. But these jobs are predominantly transient. The contract workers that fill the new jobs work on a project-by-project basis and typically move on when the film is done shooting. More than 40 percent of the wages that are subsidized through the credit are paid to people who both live outside of Massachusetts and were paid more than $1 million on the project. These are not expenses that will be recycled in the local economy.


Massachusetts expects to spend some $150 million in film credits this year, which will bring little long-term benefit to the state. That money could be much better spent on education and training, roads and bridges, and similar services that really can strengthen the state's economy.

But the Globe editorial board, in backing the tax credit last year, said dollars and cents weren't the only measure of the program's success:
Among the millions of international moviegoers watching Boston-based films are people looking to locate their businesses, plan major conventions, and book vacations. The people of the Bay State are justly proud of their image. The film credit conveys that image to the world. It gives Boston, in particular, the world-class status it needs and deserves.

And Greg Bialecki, the state's secretary for housing and economic development, told CommonWealth magazine that the report hasn't changed Governor Deval Patrick's support for the credits.

"We still think that the film tax credit is an important tool to help grow a new industry in Massachusetts," he said.

Globe photo: In 2009, Ben Affleck goes over a shootout scene during the filming of the movie The Town.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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