Nine months after the Florida Legislature rejected a measure that would have resuscitated the state's film incentive program, an exodus of productions has picked up speed, as studios eye lucrative tax breaks elsewhere.
- HBO series "Ballers" latest to leave Florida
- State legislature refuses to fund film incentive program
- Georgia offering tax breaks to Florida-based productions
The HBO comedy-drama "Ballers," starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, is the latest high-profile departure. When the film incentive funding package was defeated by fiscal conservatives in March, the show's producers announced they would consider shooting a third season of the Miami-set series in a more film-friendly state. California, with its generous film tax credits, will be Ballers's new home.
Georgia has also begun aggressively courting Florida-based productions with offers of the very tax breaks that have been eliminated in the Sunshine State. As the competition increases and more high-paying jobs disappear, industry advocates are calling on lawmakers to reconsider.
"To be unilaterally disarming in this way and not fighting for this work, not fighting to keep these talented and well-paid people in our state, is like watching a slow-motion disaster happening," said Gus Corbella, who until recently chaired the Florida Film and Entertainment Advisory Council.
Corbella estimates Florida has forfeited more than $650 million in economic benefits as a result of the legislature's refusal to fund the film incentive program. Championed by former Gov. Charlie Crist, the program received $300 million in 2010, but hasn't seen a penny since.
And it's unlikely more money will be flowing to it anytime soon. House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Land O'Lakes) is warning of a budget deficit of as much as $1 billion next year, a situation that could preclude funding for all but the state's basic necessities.
Corcoran has criticized government incentives as taxpayer-funded boondoggles.
"Hundreds of millions of dollars, of taxpayer dollars, is wasted on corporate welfare, because it seems like we have forgotten what it is that we believe," Corcoran said this month in inaugural remarks to his chamber.
Far from wasting taxpayer dollars, however, incentivizing film production could help improve the state's bottom line. While production companies' income tax receipts would decline, spending by crews on everything from catering to hotels could disproportionately boost sales tax collections.
"I would be hopeful that entertainment production could be one of the many ingredients they add to the pot to really recover our state's economy," Corbella said.
For that to happen in the current environment, however, Tallahassee would have to steal a tactic from Hollywood's playbook: the unforeseen plot twist.