House Speaker Thom Tillis is feeling the pressure on the question of whether to extend the state’s film incentives, demonstrating the political risks for his U.S. Senate campaign embedded in the state budget.
Tillis is a chief supporter of the tax breaks for film companies but his Republican colleagues shot down an attempt Thursday to extend them as part of the House budget plan. It drew a sharp retort from Wilmington Democratic Rep. Susi Hamilton, who said Tillis “double crossed” supporters of extending them. Tillis retorted by saying Hamilton’s comments were “born out of emotions” and worked against the effort.
Democrats are now working to make the incentives an issue in the U.S. Senate race.
A committee working to elect U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan suggested Tillis is reneging on his support now that conservative groups, such as the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity, oppose them. “Speaker Tillis used to support the film tax credit, but now that the Koch Brothers are against it he’s nowhere to be seen,” said Ben Ray, a Forward North Carolina spokesman.
Tillis campaign spokesman Daniel Keylin rejected the assertion. He said Tillis remains a supporter but he is deferring to his House colleagues and not forcing them to agree with him.
He said Tillis “would like to see continued support for North Carolina’s film industry, but based on the budgeting process, he understands it maybe be difficult to have the same exact incentives as previous years.”
The Wilmington-based film company EUE/Screen Gems is a major Tillis campaign donor. A company executive said Wednesday that it is “re-examining” its commitment to the state, based on the House’s inaction.
Last year, Tillis told a Wilmington area crowd that he expected the film incentives to be renewed. “I believe the film industry is critical to Wilmington, it’s critical in Charlotte, it’s growing in Asheville,” he said, according to local reports. “We’ve got to figure out a way to make sure that North Carolina’s competitive. I think there’s a way to continue to move forward with tax reform but make absolutely certain that North Carolina is the go-to place for the film industry for productions and all the other good jobs that come with it.”
Wilmington Republican Rep. Ted Davis, whose effort to extend the film credits died in the House Finance Committee, said without the extension of the current program, the industry is likely to leave the state. He said a separate measure in the Senate to create a new grant program is insufficient.
Hagan, a former state senator, supports the current film incentives, a campaign spokesman said.