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Florida Considers Using Film Tax Credits as Censorship Tool

3 min readBy: Joseph Bishop-Henchman

We’ve previously criticized Florida’s film tax incentive program proposal as unlikely to do much for economic development or job creation. As with other film tax incentive programs, it turns out to be a waste of time and resources to (a) outbid other states that are paying lots of taxA tax is a mandatory payment or charge collected by local, state, and national governments from individuals or businesses to cover the costs of general government services, goods, and activities. dollars to get productions and (b) subsidize economic activity that would probably happen anyway.

Sometimes we also mention the censorship angle—the danger of the strings that come with government funding of film productions. The danger is on table now for Florida, as reported by ThinkProgress:

A little noticed provision could deny tax creditA tax credit is a provision that reduces a taxpayer’s final tax bill, dollar-for-dollar. A tax credit differs from deductions and exemptions, which reduce taxable income, rather than the taxpayer’s tax bill directly. s to movies that feature gay or other “nontraditional family values.” Florida’s Entertainment Industry Economic Development Act would revise the current incentive program – which already offers a tax credit worth 2% of a movie’s production costs if it is “family friendly” – to specifically exclude movies that depict “nontraditional family values” from receiving the additional credit. Here is the relevant provision:

A certified production determined by the Commissioner of Film and Entertainment, with the advice of the Florida Film and Entertainment Advisory Council, to be family-friendly…Family-friendly productions are those that have cross-generational appeal; would be considered suitable for viewing by children age 5 or older…and do not exhibit or imply any act of smoking, sex, nudity, nontraditional family values, gratuitous violence, or vulgar or profane language. Under the current incentive program, review of the final release version is not required and nontraditional family values, gratuitous violence, and implied acts do not exclude a film from receiving this additional credit.

State representative Stephen Precourt, whose district includes Disney World, says the purpose of the credit is to encourage movies to depict cinematic life from the 1960s. “Think of it as like Mayberry,” Precourt told the Palm Beach Post News. “That’s when I grew up – the ’60s. That’s what life was like. I want Florida to be known for making those kinds of movies: Disney movies for kids and all that stuff. Like it used to be, you know?”

Rep. Precourt and I evidently like different kinds of movies. The great thing about living in a free country is that he can watch his movies on the good old days (of the 1960s??) and I can watch my movies full of smoking, nudity, violence, foul language, and gay characters, and we live in peace with each other.

But now Rep. Precourt has a government funding weapon to use against films he doesn’t like is where that changes. Film tax credits seek to make our entertainment industry dependent on tax incentives and other subsidies and handouts. In some ways, I’m sympathetic to Rep. Precourt, as I don’t want his tax dollars paying for a movie he finds abhorrent. But by bringing public dollars into the picture, we’ve opened the door to a give-and-take on what should and shouldn’t be censored in films.

Avoid it all: let the tax code’s treatment of film making be no different than any other industry. Our report on film tax credits elaborates on why that’s the only sensible path for states.