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Film and TV tax credit bill passes Calif. Assembly easily, but faces questions in Senate


The fight to stem runaway film and TV production got an expected boost Thursday when the California Assembly approved a bill to renew and expand the state’s film and television tax credit program.

Hollywood-area Assembly members Mike Gatto and Raul Bocanegra introduced AB 1839, the California Film and Television Job Retention and Promotion Act, in February. By the time it reached the Assembly floor this week, more than 60 of their colleagues were co-authors, so its easy passage in the Assembly was no surprise. 

The measure now heads to the California Senate, where its fate is less clear. At least two committees will have to approve it before it heads to the full Senate. Senators Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) and Carol Liu (D-La Canada) are among the bill’s co-authors.

RELATED: Calif. LAO Report: Film tax credit does not 'pay for itself'

“The film tax credit program keeps good-paying jobs in California. We need to compete against other states that are using aggressive tax credit programs to take film and television production away from our state," Liu wrote in an email to KPCC.  "Burbank, which is in my Senate District, lost 'The Tonight Show' when New York state used a tailor-made tax credit to lure that production away.” 

One important thing the bill will have to find in the Senate is a price tag.  Currently, California offers $100 million in film tax credits each year, but most supporters believe that's far from enough. New York state offers more than four times that, and Louisiana, Florida and Georgia are also more generous than the Golden State.  

So far, the sponsors of the bill to expand California's the tax credit program have moved it forward without specifying by how much. Will California try to match New York dollar for dollar or settle on a smaller sum like $200 million to ensure widespread support? That remains to be seen. Many observers expect some proposals to emerge after the legislature passes the state's next budget, which must happen by June 15.   

Supporters of the measure will also have to convince some skeptical lawmakers from the Northern part of the state who see the program as primarily benefiting the Los Angeles area.  

Two weeks ago, the mayors of 10 cities sought to change that perception by writing a letter in support of expansion. The mayors were from Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Fresno, Long Beach, Oakland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose and Santa Ana.

Opponents of the measure include the California School Employees Association and the California Teachers Association (CTA). “We believe that funding must be increased for education rather than cut back, which is what tax credits do [to the general fund],” CTA spokeswoman Claudia Briggs told the Los Angeles Daily News.

The legislature will have to pass the bill by the end of August. Gov. Jerry Brown would then have 30 days to sign it. Two years ago, Brown signed an extension of the program to keep it running through July 2017. Whether he supports expanding the program is unclear.