The Legislature on Wednesday started passing a slew of bills aimed at making Michigan the country's most attractive state in which to make movies.
The marquee measure in the package would give studios a 40 percent credit or rebate on production costs in the state depending on whether they have state tax liability -- which backers said would be the most enticing incentives in the United States.
"We have an opportunity to do something that will provide an immediate stimulus to our ailing economy," said House Commerce Chairman Andy Meisner, D-Ferndale, who led the bipartisan legislation through the House.
Tax credits also would be given for building production facilities in the state and for hiring and training Michigan workers in the film industry. The legislation would provide loans and let moviemakers use state and potentially local property free of charge, including parks, roads, buildings and landmarks.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who is expected to sign the package once it reaches her desk, mentioned it during her State of the State speech in January. Moviemakers working on location spend money on employees, supplies, lodging, food, dry cleaning and other services.
Senate Commerce and Tourism Chairman Jason Allen, R-Traverse City, said existing film incentives that took effect just a year ago were not aggressive enough.
"We weren't at the front," he said.
Decisions on where to shoot movies are mostly about the bottom line, with studios asking what tax incentives or rebate payoffs they will get in return. Louisiana and New Mexico have been so successful that they have seen soundstages built in their states -- symbols of stability once reserved for Los Angeles.
Allen said the package covers more than Hollywood-type motion pictures to include commercials, TV shows, miniseries, documentaries, video games and Internet programs. Lawmakers hope to capitalize on the fact that Canada, where many movie companies once turned because of lower costs, may becoming less attractive because its exchange rate has risen sharply against the dollar.
The House unanimously approved all of its bills Wednesday, including the 40 percent refundable credit for production expenses. The Senate unanimously passed identical or similar bills but left its the rebate measure until Thursday to hash out some details.
The way the main bills would work is if an out-of-state studio had no Michigan Business Tax liability and spent $1 million on production in the state, the state would cut it a check for $400,000. The credit otherwise could be used by in-state studios to reduce the their state taxes.
While no guarantees have been made, the package may get to Granholm before legislators leave for spring break later this month.
Michigan Film Office Director Janet Lockwood would like to see the legislation in place before she heads to Los Angeles in April for an annual trade show where state film commissions pitch studio executives, producers, directors, cinematographers and location scouts.