Beacon Hill Debates Real Impact Of Film Tax Credits

Would "Shutter Island" star Leonardo di Caprio, with Boston in the background, inspire a filmmaker to set up shop in Massachusetts? That was the debate Thursday on Beacon Hill. (Paramount Pictures)

Film tax credits: Economic stimulus or corporate welfare?

That was the question at a Beacon Hill hearing Thursday, but its organizer clearly subscribes to the latter view.

Rep. Steven D’Amico of Seekonk, an outspoken critic of the credits, cited data and studies that indicate their cost far outweigh their touted benefits.

He pointed out that of the $113 million in credits awarded in 2008, the state only got $17.5 million in tax revenue, according to Department of Revenue figures.

And he cited studies that showed a scant return on investment for generous film tax programs in other states.

D’Amico also mocked the notion that having the state featured on the silver screen has intangible economic benefits. “When a CEO is sitting at home thinking about where to move his company, and he sees Leonardo DiCaprio putting a bullet in somebody’s head with Boston in the background — somehow that CEO is going to be inspired and moved to uproot his company and move it to Massachusetts,” he quipped.

Backers of the tax credit program say it’s spurred a surge of movie-making in the Bay State.

Joseph Maiella, president of the Massachusetts Production Coalition who also attended the forum, disputed D’Amico’s conclusions. “The purpose of tax credit program is to attract new direct spending that would not otherwise come to the state or region,” he said. “That’s what the film tax credit was designed to do, that’s what it has done, and it’s done it very well.”

Maiella cites state figures that show the tax credit program has generated more than $1 billion in spending over the past several years.

The coalition will participate in its own forum next week to make the case for keeping the tax credit program intact.

In the budget now being considered on Beacon Hill, the governor proposes capping the film tax credits at $50 million a year.

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