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Defending the film tax credit

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By John Tiech
Thursday, April 25, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
 

I am the author of “Pittsburgh Film History: On Set in the Steel City” and the upcoming book “Pittsburgh Film and Television.” I have spent the last 12 years researching the history of this unique business in Pittsburgh. I am writing in reply to Colin McNickle's April 21 column about the film tax credit and inaccuracies in Ashley W. Edwards' research.

In regard to her first point, a movie will be made with or without a tax incentive. My research began in 2001, when Pittsburgh virtually had a nonexistent film industry because movies were being made in Canada, a country that was cheaper. Between 1995 and 2005, only eight major motion pictures were made in Pittsburgh full time.

Since the inception of the film tax credit, Pittsburgh has been the home of at least four full-time movie productions per year. Without the tax credit, Pittsburgh will see no productions made here because other places are cheaper. With the tax credit, the region will continue to see a maintained industry.

Edwards' second point of an “arms race” with your wallet is a fallacy. Pennsylvania does not set aside $60 million in taxpayer money. Rather, Pennsylvania commits only $100,000. If you don't believe me, please look at Gov. Corbett's budget, which is online for public viewing.

If someone gives you $100 because they like you and you decide to give $25 back, keeping $75 that you never would have had in the first place is not losing money or committing an “arms race” with your wallet. You are making $75.

In the case of the film industry, the money goes to payroll, small businesses (which includes food, building supplies, lodging, etc.) and to the state (which receives millions of dollars a year out of a $100,000 investment, an exceptional return).

Although Edwards is wrong about a net loss of tax revenue, as the facts prove, she is correct about the temporary work. When the tax credit is in work, it does create jobs. In fact, Pittsburgh has had a reputation in the film industry for having the most skilled and talented workers for over 30 years. I've talked to people all over the world for my research.

However, when the tax credit is exhausted, the jobs don't exist. Productions do go to other cities or countries. This is happening right now. Between January and July, no movie productions are set to be made in Pittsburgh. In fact, several productions have opted to go to other cities because they were cheaper. With a raised tax credit cap, work can occur full time in Pittsburgh.

If you don't support the tax credit in principle, that is an admirable stance. Movies should come to Pittsburgh without a tax credit. But like any other business or individual, movie productions also try to receive the best bang for their buck. The film tax credit works. In my book, I let historical fact dictate my stance and support, as I do not directly advocate for the tax credit.

If the historical fact showed that the tax credit didn't work and the committed $100,000 was a bad investment, I would be standing alongside Mr. McNickle and Ms. Edwards.

John Tiech, an English instructor at Westmoreland County Community College, lives in Charleroi.

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