Hollywood Comeback for National Runaway Production Bill?
Mark London Williams
If there are no second acts in American lives, then further evidence of the split between politics and real life might be found in the reintroduction of runaway production legislation in the U.S. Congress, hitting the war-jittery capital just as this edition of Below the Line was going to press.
Congressmen David Dreier, the San Dimas republican, was joined by Democrat Howard Berman (whose mostly Valley distract includes parts of Encino, Sherman Oaks and some of the Hollywood Hills) with 45 fellow House members, to “re-release” a bill that provides the proverbial wage-based tax relief for film and TV projects produced here in the U.S., a perhaps tilting-at-windmills response to the more massive production subsidies provided by Canada and other countries.
Called The United States Independent Film and Television Production Incentive Act, is aimed at smaller productions, and would provide a tax relief credit of about 25 percent of the first $25,000 in qualified wages per employee.
Of course, similar California-only legislation died in the state legislature when a disastrous budget shortfall made any perception of a “Hollywood tax break” seem like a political liability for anyone campaigning outside of Brentwood.
And the Drier/Berman bill hit its own brick wall in the previous session of Congress, failing to gain necessary traction for passage. Nonetheless, Drier spokesperson Jo Powers told Below the Line that despite the fiduciary climate, “we think it’s important to get it out there, regardless.” While she realizes the bill still faces an uphill fight to be included in the economic package that eventually passes, she noted that the steady education of Congressional members from non-filmmaking states and districts is an important part of eventually reaching critical mass for some kind of legislation to pass.
The reintroduction of the Drier/Berman bill may also serve as a gentle goad for Senator Blanche Lincoln, who is looking for an opportune moment to reintroduce a reworked version of last year’s S. 1278, essentially a Senate version of this same House proposal.
Lincoln is an Arkansas Democrat, and for those wondering why she’d even waste sweat equity on the issue without a geographic imperative, note that her sister is director/DGA member Mary Lambert, and Lincoln herself addressed that guild, and talked up its concerns, over luncheon when the party of Roosevelt held its last convention here in L.A.
Yet, according to sources in Lincoln’s office, “she does intend to re-introduce the bill this year.” Of course, those sources continued, those plans were made before the latest Bush budget came out, and since that document is already rife with red ink, built in tax breaks for the wealthy, and doesn’t even take into account the costs of impending wars, the fiscal environment may continue to be hostile in either house of Congress.
Still, the bill’s exhumation is part of a strategy of winning “hearts and minds” over the long run. Or perhaps a more classic Tinsel Town case of “hurry up – and wait.”