Democratic Rep. Susi Hamilton of Wilmington led a brigade of film industry supporters in a pep rally at the legislature Wednesday.
There were no Hollywood stars but plenty of politicians, including Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo and Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines, at the morning press conference to tout the virtues of the industry.
State tax credits for the industry are set to expire in January unless lawmakers extend them. Advocates say the industry provides 4,200 full-time jobs in the state and more than three times that in part-time work. Critics call the job claims exaggerated and want to do away with the tax credits.
Rep. Frank Iler, a Republican from Oak Island, began by comparing the film incentives debate to “Star Wars” – a film that was made practically everywhere in the world except for North Carolina.
“Georgia is the evil empire,” Iler said. “The eyes of Georgia are upon us. The evil empire is coming to capture 4,000 jobs.”
Those 4,000 jobs that North Carolina is protecting from Georgia are clean, non-polluting jobs, Democratic Rep. Kelly Alexander of Charlotte reiterated.
Hamilton noted that more than two-thirds of North Carolina’s counties have benefitted from the film industry. And she expressed frustration with the debate itself.
“The fact that we’re even engaging in this discussion is threatening the industry as we speak,” Hamilton said.
In an interview after the press conference, Becki Gray, vice president for outreach at the John Locke Foundation, said the legislature would be sending mixed messages if it were to extend film incentives.
Providing incentives to a single industry, she said, is an unfair system to the North Carolina taxpayers.
Under the current film incentive program, TV and film production companies receive a 25 percent refund when they spend up to $20 million. Gray argued that the money could be better redirected toward issues such as teacher pay.