Former Speaker of the House James Amann, who helped create Connecticut’s film tax credit program in 2006, is now a lobbyist ready to defend the program against legislative cuts in what is shaping up to be a very difficult budget year.
At a Capitol press conference to unveil plans for “Thunder in the Deep,“ a submarine thriller based on a book by the same name—Amann said he was hired by the film’s developers to defend the film tax credit program, which will save it about $20 million of the $65 million it plans on spending in the state.
Overall the cost of the film, which takes place in 2030, rivals spending in 2008 on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull at $100 million. “Thunder in the Deep” can apply for film credits up 30 percent of its Connecticut production costs, Amann said.
He argues that lawmakers need to understand how good the film tax credit program has been to the state of Connecticut and how it has created an industry here.
“We need to have consistency in a state for something to grow,” Amann said.
But even Amann conceded that more useful data about how many jobs the industry and tax credit program has created is important to its future.
Governor-elect Dan Malloy said on the campaign trail that all tax exemptions and tax credit programs need to be examined before any tax increase will be considered. Malloy was not immediately available for comment.
Sen. Gary LeBeau, D-East Hartford, who co-chairs the legislature’s Commerce Committee, said he thinks everything is going to be on the table in a Malloy administration.
“The only thing that won’t be on the table that Governor-elect Malloy cited is certain programs that are essentially the safety net for the poorer people in the state of Connecticut,” LeBeau said. “I think we have to look at this. It’s unfair not to look at this.”
However, LeBeau said, “we’re creating a lot of jobs here. We created an industry that did not exist three or four years ago.”
He said the film industry during a recession is “counter cyclical,” and is doing well at this time. “It is doing well and I think it’s something we can continue to grow with.”
“I think that if any governor would understand how good this has been for the state of Connecticut, it’s going to be Governor Malloy,” Amann said.
But if a challenge is mounted it’s almost certain to come from advocacy groups such as Connecticut Voices for Children, which has been highly critical of the program in the past.
In 2009 a report by the organization showed that almost one-third of business tax credits came from this program. The report was also critical of the transferability of the credits. The credits can be sold for more than they’re worth to another industry such as the insurance industry, which may want to reduce its corporate tax liability to the state.
Joachim Hero, a research analyst at CT Voices, said Wednesday that the issue is certain to come up again this year as his organization seeks to bring more transparency to all tax expenditures.
“The question is: are we really spending this money in a way that maximum benefits to state economy?” Hero said. “The money the state forgoes with these credits has to come from somewhere whether it’s raising taxes or cutting spending it has to come from somewhere else.”
He also would like to see more data about the program. He said CT Voices has had to use Freedom of Information requests or rely on lawmakers that agree with it in order to get data about the program.
But the film industry says it’s helping create jobs.
Richard Meyer, executive producer of “Thunder in the Deep,” said it will create 200 or more jobs in the state and is expected to be the second largest production ever filmed in Connecticut.
Filming will begin in the Spring of 2011 and will be shot mostly at Sonalyst Studios in Waterford where “Deal or No Deal,” and the ESPN mini-series “The Bronx is Burning” were filmed.
Larry Clark, chairman and CEO of Sonalyst Studios, said “Deal or No Deal” which was shot at the Waterford studios for four months, would not have come to Connecticut if it wasn’t for the film tax incentives. He said the same is true for ESPN.
Joe Buff, the author of “Thunder in the Deep,” said while there won’t be any live location shots near the submarine base in Groton, many of the historical components will be used to help the effects specialists with CGI or computer generated imagery. The film will also be the first submarine movie shot in 3-D.
The movie’s crew was mum about which movie stars it’s courting, but they said they were negotiating with “A-list” stars.