News Story

Michigan Senator Calls Notion of 'Stealth' Film Subsidy Effort 'Absurd'

'If you can keep $100 million dollars quiet in this day and age with Gov. Snyder you’d have to be a Harry Houdini.' – Sen. Mike Kowall

A Facebook post by a film industry activist suggested Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is working on legislation to restore $100 million to the state’s film subsidy program and “wishes to keep this process quiet and very stealth!”

Michigan Capitol Confidential reported the story Tuesday, and Sen. Kowall has responded, calling the entire notion that he’s doing anything behind the scenes “absurd.”

Kowall says the only thing related to the film subsidy program that he’s working on is SB 383. Kowall is the primary sponsor of the bill, which passed the in Senate 37-1 and is now in the House. The legislation would allow the Michigan Film Office to give filmmakers “up to” 42 percent on spending in Michigan. Kowall says this is a significant change from the current law, which guarantees top subsidy amounts regardless of how much movie production is actually performed in Michigan. “What we’re trying to do is curb those projects that came to the state, you know 1 or 2 percent, or 3 percent, of the filming here and either you gave them the 42 percent credit or you didn’t,” Kowall explained.

Ken Droz, former communications director for the Michigan Film Office said in his facebook post on a page called “Save the Michigan Film Tax Credit” said he “[h]ad some great exchanges, with key principals (Kowall, [Randy] Richardville, others).” Droz also said legislators are stealthily up to more, “As mentioned a new bill should be introduced, SOON, supplementing 383, to continue after Jan. 1, 2012 — with a film fund of approx. $100 million.”

Kowall denies having any such conversation with Droz, saying, “I couldn’t even tell you who the guy was if he walked into my office.” Kowall added he has no idea where the $100 million figure came from, “It would be a real interesting thing to do, because I really hadn’t seen any numbers until I read it on (Michigan Capitol Confidential). If you can keep $100 million dollars quiet in this day and age with Gov. Snyder you’d have to be a Harry Houdini.”

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville was also mentioned in the Facebook post:

“But bottom line — Kowall, and Sen. Maj. Leader Richardville are definite supporters of a viable film program, and working many political gears to get it thru the House, and a Snyder signature.”

Richardville tells Michigan Capitol Confidential he had not seen the facebook post, believes the $100 million figure comes from general discussion about the $77 million promised this year to filmmakers added to the $25 million in the governor’s budget. While he says there’s no legislation in the works calling for $100 million to fund the film incentives, Richardville did acknowledge the amount itself is not off the table. “We’re going to take a look at those numbers and see if they make sense and if they sustain the industry.”

In the meantime, the Senate majority leader confirmed he is working on a separate bill dealing with the film subsidies that does not address how much money the program would get. The legislation, which he says is currently in its “fourth or fifth draft,” would instead probably “take a different form than a tax rebate.”

When pressed about any effort to raise the appropriations amount, or lift the cap altogether (effectively restoring the original legislation passed in 2008), Richardville concluded: “There’s nothing in there regarding the appropriations. It’s only about the formulas, the percentages and how we will target the industry and sustain it.”

And don’t expect to see an unlimited film subsidy program like the original of 2008 anytime soon. In Kowall’s words, echoed by Richardville, “If the original film incentive bill was introduced today, I don’t think it would have the votes to get passed.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.