An incentives bill to lure filmmakers back to South Carolina appears increasingly likely to pass -- and is putting some local leaders at odds.
On one side, is the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce and Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton, who say the bill is essential to making South Carolina competitive with neighboring states and bringing film production back to the area.
On the other, is Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who voted against the bill because studies he cites show the incentives cost the state more money than they generate.
The Senate legislation, sponsored primarily by a group of Charleston lawmakers, recently cleared the Senate on a 34-9 vote. A House version has also passed a committee vote and is heading to the full chamber, where Herbkersman says he will lead the effort for passage.
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"The amount of money in incentives we give comes back in a heap," Herbkersman said. "It provides jobs. That's particularly true of this area. And it's an economic-development tool."
The bill increases the rebates on wages from 15 percent to 20 percent for film-production companies that make movies in the state. If workers are state residents, the wage rebate rises to 25 percent.
Companies must spend at least $1 million to qualify for the rebates. Films rated NC-17 by the Motion Picture Association of America are not eligible under a Senate amendment.
"This gets the state back in the game. It gets us back competitive with our neighboring states," said Blakely Williams, president and CEO of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, which has encouraged its members to call lawmakers in support of the bill.
Williams said that in 2010 and 2011, South Carolina had only two movies filmed in the state while North Carolina had 24. Georgia had 24 in 2011 alone.
In 2012, North Carolina private film investment was at $376 million while Georgia's topped $3.1 billion. South Carolina's was $25 million, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.
Neighboring states have improved their incentives in recent years; South Carolina has not. "And that's hurt us," Williams said, adding that the last big movie filmed in South Carolina was "Forces of Nature," a 1999 film featuring Ben Affleck and Sandra Bullock that contained scenes in Beaufort and Dillon.
But Davis said he has asked the bill's proponents to refute two studies that show the incentives are ineffective.
One, by a College of Charleston professor, found the trickle-down spending produced by the film industry generated less in tax revenue than the tax dollars spent to attract filmmakers, creating a net loss of 81 cents for each tax dollar spent on film subsidies. A second, by the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy, found incentives don't create jobs and aren't worth the cost.
"Every year, dozens of new subsidy programs are considered and passed by the legislature, and there is almost never a coherent cost-benefit analysis provided so lawmakers can assess whether what they are being asked to do makes sense to the taxpayers," Davis said. "But it usually doesn't matter to lawmakers since they can see the jobs created through government subsidies, but they cannot see the jobs never created elsewhere because of the higher taxes everyone else pays as a result of the special subsidies."