Wilmington-area legislators and movie industry types are pretty mad. It looks like incentives for the film industry are not going to survive the state House. These folks REALLY thought they were going to keep getting these goodies. And for good reason.
In January, we wrote about some remarks by
speaker senator (spenator?) Thom Tillis during a September 2013 fundraiser:
[…] Tillis weighed in on North Carolina’s film incentive program which is set to expire at the end of next year.
“I believe the film industry is critical to Wilmington, it’s critical in Charlotte, it’s growing in Asheville. 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,” said Tillis.
Tillis said he believes lawmakers will vote to extend the program when the legislature heads back for the short session next year. […]
Fast forward to early May. State Senator Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick), a close supporter of and fundraiser for Tillis, attended a pro-incentives rally in Wilmington and met privately with Wilmington Rep. Susi Hamilton (D) afterward to plot incentives strategy. It WAS looking like smooth sailing.
Now, here we are in the short session, and the incentives train appears to have gone off the rails:
State Rep. Susi Hamilton Wednesday said the film community was “double-crossed” by House Speaker Thom Tillis, whose staff she claims actively worked to defeat a budget amendment to keep film incentive talks alive in the General Assembly.
“Rep. (Ted) Davis was given the green light to run the bill in Finance and the best we could tell during the committee, the speaker’s staff and other leaders from the Republican Party went around and whipped votes against the amendment,” Hamilton said after the Wednesday morning failed vote in the House Finance Committee to extend film tax credits.
In a rare interview with the StarNews, Tillis retorted that Hamilton’s comments were likely “born out of emotions” but that this “sort of behavior” makes her the “single greatest threat” to a compromise on film incentives in the state House.
Republican Tillis, who is mounting a heated bid for the U.S. Senate against Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan, has been relatively quiet in recent weeks on film incentives, a top priority for Wilmington area officials, with his spokeswoman in previous requests for interviews on the topic punting to other leading Republicans.
But after Hamilton’s “double-crossed” comment, Tillis, a Republican from Mecklenburg County, called the StarNews to defend his record on film incentives, saying he worked in the 2009-2010 session against an effort by the Democratic leadership to kill film incentives.
“I actively worked to prevent that from happening,” Tillis said. “I have a longer history of trying to work on this than Rep. Hamilton has in the legislature. I think her comments and activity are the single greatest threat to progress.”
For his part, Davis said Speaker Tillis did not work against his amendment.
“I want to clear one thing up. The Speaker’s office did not work against me,” he said. “In fact ever since I’ve been trying to do this the Speaker’s office has been very supportive of what I am trying to do. So that is an incorrect statement that I do not agree with.”
Davis said he is “still optimistic” for other opportunities to pursue the film tax credits.
Tillis said his “record is clear on this issue” and he is “trying to do the best I can to get members on board” for a film incentives package that could earn the support of the conservative House body.
“If Rep. Hamilton wants to be a part of the solution she needs to stop being a part of the problem,” Tillis said.
Meanwhile, Hamilton said that after the StarNews contacted Tillis’ office about her “double-crossed” comment, that she was visited by a staff member of Tillis’ at her Jones Street office in Raleigh who was unhappy with her.
“This is a fight,” Hamilton said, adding later, “It sounds to me like the Speaker is concerned about the votes in Wilmington in his U.S. Senate race.”
“Do I seem emotional?” she continued. “Any more than usual? My comments were born out of fact. And the facts are: Ted Davis ran an amendment in Finance today, and we all witnessed top Republican leadership and a staff member from Tillis’ office work the committee to secure votes against the amendment.
For the record, this kind of thing sounds EXACTLY what I have heard from sources who have served (and currently serve) in the state House. Quite often, I am told, a committee will be heading in one direction when a Tillis staffer — or Tillis himself — will barge into the room and tell everyone HOW things WILL proceed.
Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said it was his understanding, too, that Speaker Tillis’ office had actively worked against the amendment. “I guess he’ll have to explain that to voters in eastern North Carolina, my part of the state.”
The mayor said he was very disappointed in the vote Wednesday morning.
“They torpedoed it and they killed it and I don’t know why,” Saffo said. “It was my understanding that Rep. Davis was told they (Republican leaders) would support him in this amendment and when they got into the committee room the powers that be did everything they could to kill it.”
Hamilton said that she and Davis went into the meeting this morning with the understanding they had the votes to support the amendment.
“They blatantly worked against it during committee,” she said.
Understandably, the hierarchy at Screen Gems in Wilmington is livid. They shelled out five figures to a guy who promised that film incentives would sail through the House.
For those of you not so familiar with SOP in Raleigh, let me tell you this: NOTHING happens in the House without the approval of the speaker’s office. NOTHING.
Did Speaker Thom just tell these studio guys what they wanted to hear so they would cough up big dollars for his Senate campaign? Are games being played to shake more money out of the film industry? We’ve heard this kind of thing happens in DC. Surely, there is a little of that going on in Raleigh.