AP News

Bill to grow film industry heads to full SC Senate

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Tax incentive measures aimed at expanding the film industry in South Carolina and revitalizing abandoned buildings advanced Tuesday to the Senate floor.

Film companies could be reimbursed up to 25 percent for in-state wages they pay and up to 30 percent for spending in local businesses. To qualify, film companies must spend at least $1 million in South Carolina.

The proposal for the rebates puts into state law the incentives that had been approved yearly, since 2006, as part of the state budget. But those enhanced cash rebates didn't make it into the current budget.

John DeWorken, a representative of the Carolina Film Alliance, said that drop-off emphasized the unpredictability of the year-to-year budget clauses, and film producers need certainty for long-term planning.

"This codifies the way money's distributed, so we can try to put some permanence in here and grow the film industry in South Carolina," said Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Goose Creek, the bill's main sponsor.

Under an approved amendment, films are disqualified if they receive an NC-17 rating — meaning they're deemed raunchy enough that no one under 18 can be admitted.

Campbell said he'd received letters of support from various suppliers that benefit from production spending, which vary from hotels and caterers to electricians and lumber yards.

The crew of "Leatherheads," which starred George Clooney and premiered in 2008, spent $225,000 at one Greenville hotel alone, Campbell said.

According to state economic advisers, the measure would have no impact on state revenue, since the law already caps the rebates at $10 million annually.

If the bill passes, South Carolina's film incentives would be competitive with other states, DeWorken said. "Middle of the pack" is all that's needed to attract filming given the state's geographic diversity, from the Spanish moss and beaches of the Lowcountry to the mountains in the Upstate, he said.

"I'm convinced this bill will create jobs and be a catalyst for local business," he said.

In 2010, then-Gov. Mark Sanford vetoed the incentives. The makers of "Army Wives" threatened to move the Charleston-based production if they weren't extended, and cast members went to the Statehouse to lobby legislators for a veto override. The Lifetime series has filmed in Charleston since 2006.

Then-Rep. Nikki Haley was among just seven House members who voted to uphold Sanford's veto.

Also on Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee advanced a bill lawmakers hope will help turn abandoned buildings across South Carolina into bustling commercial space.

The measure, dubbed the "Abandoned Buildings Revitalization Act," would give state income tax credits for renovating buildings vacated at least five years. The qualifying investment would range from $75,000 to $250,000 depending on the community's size.

The bill had required an investment of at least $500,000, but senators changed that after local officials pointed out that prevented small communities from benefiting, due to their lower property values.

Other amendments clarified that single-family residences don't qualify as an abandoned building and capped the taxpayer credit to $500,000 per site.

According to state economic advisers, the bill would reduce state revenue by $1 million next fiscal year, then $3.8 million annually the next four years. There is an estimated 500,000 square feet of abandoned building space statewide.

The bill died in the Senate last year after passing the House.

Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, voted against the proposal, saying it could theoretically result in an established business subsidizing a competitor who wants to refurbish a vacated building across the street.

Legislators approved a similar law several years ago directed at renovating old textile mills. Supporters say it helped create vibrant city centers in Greenville and areas of Columbia.

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