City, county to Gov. McCrory: ‘Reconvene the legislature’ to resolve film credit

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Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, left, joined New Hanover County Commission Chairman Woody White in calling for Gov.  Pat McCrory to call a special session of the General Assembly to resolve the state's film credit program, which is slated to significantly lessen next year. Photo by Jonathan Spiers.
Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, left, joined New Hanover County Commission Chairman Woody White in calling for Gov. Pat McCrory to call a special session of the General Assembly to resolve the state’s film credit program, which is slated to significantly lessen next year. Photo by Jonathan Spiers.

City of Wilmington and New Hanover County officials are formally asking Gov. Pat McCrory to reconvene the North Carolina General Assembly to resolve the issue of the state’s film credit, which otherwise is set to be significantly reduced next year.

At a joint meeting Tuesday to prioritize economic strategies for the area, Wilmington City Council and New Hanover commissioners agreed to have a letter sent to McCrory requesting a special session of the state legislature, which adjourned last week after approving a budget that includes a modified credit with an overall cap of $10 million for all productions in the state for the first six months of 2015.

That credit, structured as a grant fund program, is significantly lower than the credits the state has awarded to productions under the current program, which allows a 25 percent refundable tax credit for productions that spend at least $250,000. Thus far this year, the state has seen an estimated $268 million in direct in-state spending by productions; 25 percent of that would come out to about $67 million.

Related story: Budget includes $10 film grant program

At Tuesday’s meeting, New Hanover Chairman Woody White said the legislature’s approval of the reduced program effectively kills an industry that has been in the state for three decades. He said the only course of action left to save the industry is for McCrory to call the legislature back to Raleigh.

“There’s only one remedy: that’s the governor calls a special session,” he said. “So I think the message, clearly, from our board is to pass a resolution in support of the industry.”

White said he had spoken recently with Johnny Griffin, director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission, who he said mentioned productions that are currently looking at filming in the state that are now reconsidering due to the change and uncertainty in the credit.

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, who has been vocal on the issue and has asked for a one-year extension of the current incentive to help resolve the matter, agreed with White’s suggestion.

“I think what we heard from the chairman is right on the spot: we need to ask the governor to reconvene the legislature. That’s the only way forward,” Saffo said.

County Commissioner Beth Dawson, who serves with Saffo on the regional film commission’s board of directors, said she understood the commission was preparing a similar letter calling community members to action. White said such a call could carry additional weight with a request from four county commissioners and seven city council members.

Referring to his conversation with Griffin, White said: “It’s upsetting to hear him talk about it. It’s upsetting to hear him put it in terms of families that are packing their bags right now in our community and leaving in anticipation of the end of times. And it’s dire. And that message has not been effectively communicated, for whatever reason, to the governor’s office.

“I know the governor supports it; he’s one branch of government. The legislature does not,” White said, adding that the governor could only call legislators back to Raleigh to decide whether their intention was truly to negatively affect an established industry.

White said Griffin acknowledged other communities in the state where filming is frequent have not rallied as much on the issue as Wilmington has, making the issue look to legislators like an area-specific—not statewide—issue.

“He will tell you: They have industry in Greensboro, Charlotte; those communities really are not galvanized behind it,” White said. “They’ve got plenty of jobs. Charlotte has such a diverse economy that it’s not as big of a deal to them. This is a big deal to Wilmington, and it’s seen as a Wilmington issue—wrongly, but that’s the perception.”

White asked that a letter be drafted today and sent to the governor’s office requesting the special session, with the goal of having legislators state their stance on “whether or not they want to kill an industry that’s been here for three decades, because that’s what it looks like they want to do,” he said.

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Jonathan Spiers is a reporter for Port City Daily. He can be reached at (910) 772-6313 or jonathan.s@portcitydaily.com. On Twitter: @jrspiers


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