Michigan film industry eager to see incentives return; critics say film incentives produced a 'blip' in jobs

Posted at 3:31 PM, Nov 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-29 18:42:26-05

DETROIT (WXYZ) — Transient, temporary, and expensive to create. That's how Jarrett Skorup of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy describes many of the jobs in the film industry. And that's why Skorup and critics of Michigan's old film incentives are opposed to new legislation being proposed that would bring any incentives back.

"It will benefit a small number of people, but it will harm most people who are the ones that have to pay for this," Skorup told 7 Action News.

"California has seen its film jobs leave because of the high cost of living there and because other states began subsidizing productions," Skorup detailed in a report for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. "Georgia and Louisiana started expensive film incentive programs to lure projects and have perennial budget fights arguing for them to continue so companies don’t turn around and leave. New York is constantly trying to one-up California by offering more lucrative incentives to film companies. When states only win projects by handing out more money than the next state, film subsidies become a race to the bottom."

But members of the Michigan Film Industry Association (MiFIA) disagree. And they've worked on the new proposed legislation that they believe will find broad support.

"I think the biggest difference is that it's a transferable tax credit. The former legislation was a refund," said MiFIA's Peter Klein.

"And with a transferrable, non-refundable tax credit, the money stays in the state because the credit can only be used against a Michigan tax liability. Other states do it. It's not a brand new concept, but we really latched on to that - we thought it would really alleviate a lot of concerns that the taxpayers might have, or legislators, and we are very optimistic about it," Klein said.

Edwin Joseph Miller serves as business manager for the Detroit Stage and Film Technicians Union, IATSE Local 38. And Miller said they had 178 members before the previous film incentives took effect and that membership grew to 550 within the first two to three years.

"This is our members' bread and butter, working on those crews," Miller said, adding that in addition to the immediate jobs for their members, there is also the added financial benefit to area merchants, hotels, caterers, and other vendors.