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A 'House of Cards' tax credits battle worthy of Frank Underwood

Kevin Spacey stars as Congressman Frank Underwood in the Netflix series
Kevin Spacey stars as Congressman Frank Underwood in the Netflix series "House Of Cards," which is battling with Maryland lawmakers over production tax credits.

A battle over tax credits for film and TV production in Maryland has turned so nasty that it sounds like a plot twist out of the popular Netflix series "House of Cards." 

The show, which is shot in Baltimore, is one of many shows about D.C. caught up in the dispute.

The problem is that filming movies and TV shows about Washington in Washington is both expensive and difficult. Post-9/11 security measures make filming near the U.S. Capitol almost impossible. And even when production companies get the green light, unforeseen complications arise, such as four years ago when "Transformers 3" was being shot on the National Mall. A police car with siren blaring drove onto the set and crashed into a car.

Instead, many shows — including both "Veep" and "House of Cards" — shoot in nearby Baltimore.

There are a number of advantages: it's just an hour from D.C, and Maryland offers tax subsidies. 

Maryland has given the green light to more than $26 million in tax credits to offset the actual $120 million it cost to shoot the first two seasons of "House of Cards." Producers want $15 million to film season three. The state has offered $4 million. 

Producers tried wooing lawmakers, sending Kevin Spacey, the man who plays the conniving House Whip Frank Underwood, to lobby at a fancy Annapolis wine bar reception. Producers also issued an ultimatum: if they don't get what they want, they'll shoot the third season elsewhere.

That rubbed one state lawmaker the wrong way. Maryland Delegate C. William Frick had an epiphany: "What is an appropriate Frank Underwood response to a threat like this?" Frick proposes using the state's power of eminent domain to seize the show's sets, equipment and other property. His proposal, offered as a budget amendment, was approved by fellow delegates by voice vote without debate, but with much applause.  

The state senate took a more diplomatic vote last week, more than doubling the pool of tax credits. A compromise is likely on the horizon.

"House of Cards" could always come back to Los Angeles, where the production company is based. An earlier D.C.-based series, "The West Wing," was shot mostly in Los Angeles, using L.A. City Hall for everything from the halls of Congress to the Supreme Court. (Mayor Eric Garcetti even has a few acting credits under his belt if the show wants to drop a real-life politico in a scene.) And California also offers tax credits — $100 million a year. Sacramento lawmakers are considering a measure that would expand California's program to include TV pilots and new one-hour series. 

And frankly, L.A. can use the jobs. A recent report from the Milken Institute says California lost more than 16,000 production jobs in less than a decade, in large part due to generous tax credits offered by other states.