Georgia lawmakers may expand film tax break, increase oversight

Camera assistant Grady Upchurch of Marietta walks to his area where he prepares a camera during filming for “Drop Dead Diva,” a Lifetime television series, in a retail shop along Main Street in downtown Senoia in 2010. Georgia offers one of the country’s most generous film and TV production tax incentive schemes, having doled out more than $1 billion in credits over the past decade in order to attract studios to the state. Jason Getz jgetz@ajc.com
Camera assistant Grady Upchurch of Marietta walks to his area where he prepares a camera during filming for “Drop Dead Diva,” a Lifetime television series, in a retail shop along Main Street in downtown Senoia in 2010. Georgia offers one of the country’s most generous film and TV production tax incentive schemes, having doled out more than $1 billion in credits over the past decade in order to attract studios to the state. Jason Getz jgetz@ajc.com

A state House committee Monday approved a revised version of a bill that would strengthen oversight of Georgia’s film tax credit while also expanding it.

House Bill 1037 would require an audit for every production that receives the credit. It also would impose other measures to ensure the $800 million-a-year tax break rewards productions that benefit Georgia — a concern raised in a recent state audit.

HB 1037 also would expand the tax break for the first time to major sporting events and to music licensing for soundtracks. The Georgia Senate, meanwhile, discussed expanding tax credits for the music industry Monday.

As originally written, the film bill, HB 1037, would have awarded tax credits to companies that broadcast non-recurring sporting events that have an economic impact of $50 million or more — such as the Super Bowl or the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament.

But on Monday the committee approved an amended bill that would limit the credit to sporting events held in 2026. Rep. Matt Dollar, R-Marietta, said the intent is to limit the credit to the 2026 World Cup — though other sporting events held that year could receive the credit, provided they meet other criteria.

Some lawmakers had questioned the proposal to expand the tax break in hearings last week.

“I felt that the best thing to do in that regard was to very strictly limit it,” Dollar told the House Working Group on Creative Arts and Entertainment on Monday.

Atlanta is likely to get World Cup matches in 2026, with or without a tax break. The city has a strong fan base for Atlanta United, which attracts more fans to games than most European soccer teams. Atlanta United has attracted record crowds for Major League Soccer, topping 72,000 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

But what boosters hope to add is the international broadcast center for the games, which could attract thousands of journalists.

The amended bill also would expand the tax break to music licensed for film, television and other production soundtracks. It’s unclear how much either expansion of the tax break would cost the state.

The committee approved HB 1037 by a unanimous vote. But Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, said he still objects to expanding the credit in a bill primarily intended to shore up oversight.

The effect, he said, is to say, “ ‘Oh, by the way, to get that accountability, you have to agree to something else.’ It’s not exactly ideal.”

The bill now goes to the House Ways and Means Committee.

The Senate Finance Committee on Monday heard Senate Bill 441, by Senate Rules Chairman Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, which would increase the tax credit music production companies could receive for work in Georgia.

Mullis and a promoter for the music industry told the Senate Finance Committee that people in the music business are leaving Georgia for other states, or Georgia is losing out on potential business, because other states have larger tax incentives. It is common for lawmakers to seek tax breaks on the premise that other states are taking business away from Georgia because they have bigger tax breaks.

“We want to keep our talent in Georgia,” Mullis said. “They are leaving Georgia for jobs elsewhere.”

Under Mullis’ bill, the music industry tax credits would match those given to the movie industry. The bill would make it easier to get the credits by lowering the amount companies have to spend to qualify.

Mullis also wants to make it so companies that owe the state little in taxes could still make money off the credits.

In Georgia’s film and TV program, the tax credits are transferable.

So, for instance, if a film company spends $3,333,333.33 in Georgia and meets all the necessary state criteria, it can earn a 30% tax credit worth $1 million.

But since many companies aren’t based in Georgia, they owe little or no money in state taxes, so they sell the credit — for cash — to any entity that owes state taxes.

Those entities — often other companies that owe state taxes — buy the credits at a discount. They may pay $800,000 for a $1 million credit. The film company receives the $800,000, and the buyer — either a person or company — sees a $1 million reduction in taxes.

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