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March 11, 2012

Senate bill could stunt Oklahoma film industry

NORMAN — State law has prevented an apocalypse in Tulsa, and Oklahoma film professionals are less than enthused.

Tulsa missed out when the makers of Steven Spielberg’s “Robopocalypse” — a film about a postapocalyptic Tulsa — chose Canada as a filming location over Tulsa because the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate Program had reached its $5 million-per-year tax rebate cap.

Now, local filmmakers say a bill pending debate and a vote on the Oklahoma state Senate floor could spell the end of Oklahoma film altogether.

“We’re not just a bunch of petulant teenagers trying to rage against the machine,” Sean Patrick Eaton, chair of Professional Filmmakers of Oklahoma and a location manager based in Oklahoma City, said. “This is our industry.”

Eaton, an organizer of Save Oklahoma Film, said Oklahoma Senate Bill 1623 could soon cut tax rebate rates in half for filmmakers who choose to produce movies within the state.

The bill, authored by Sen. Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa, and House co-author Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, would reduce the rebate program’s current 35 percent rebate offering to 17.5 percent.

Eaton said such a tax credit reduction is unacceptable.

By eliminating 45 special interest tax throwbacks that affect the film industry — like the state’s coal, wind energy and venture capitalism industries — the bill would lower the state income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 4.75 percent. Mazzei said these types of applicable tax incentive programs benefit only “a few people and not all Oklahomans.”

“My primary objective (with this bill) is to reduce state income taxes on all hardworking Oklahomans,” Mazzei said.

He said, ultimately, that the bill will pay for itself as the approximately $300 million decrease in expenditures on special interest tax throwbacks will balance out with the approximately $300 million decrease in revenue from income tax.

Sen. John Sparks, D-Norman, does not support SB 1623. Sparks said he disagrees that the reductions in the tax credit business incentive programs will offset the lost income tax collections.

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