We hope each of you had a wonderful holiday season and a great start to 2017. While January 9th serves as the unofficial start of the “legislative season” in Florida, we have been working on legislative efforts for the last six months and wanted to take this opportunity to give you an update on where things stand heading into the 2017 legislative session.
As you are aware, the Florida Entertainment Incentive Program sunset on June 30, 2016. For the first time in over a decade, there is no longer a statewide program to entice film, television and digital media projects and companies to do business in Florida. Despite the efforts of many both within Film Florida and outside our organization over the last 3+ years, neither additional funding for the recently expired program or a new program has been enacted in Tallahassee. Unfortunately, the end result has been the same but the process and approach each of those years has been very different.
With a record number of new legislators coming into office in November, Film Florida set out months before the elections to introduce our organization and our industry to all of those potential legislators. Nearly half of the 132 new candidates engaged with us and offered their thoughts on our industry. We have since been in touch with each legislator that has been elected to the Florida House and Florida Senate and have begun the extremely important process of educating the newly elected officials about the importance and impact of the industry here in Florida.
We have spent a great deal of time examining the recently sunset program and looking at programs from other states (most notably states that also do not have state income tax). Since the elections, we have been working daily with our legislative supporters and our government relations team, looking at realistic possible options based on Tallahassee’s current leadership. The state legislature is faced with “grim budget news” for the upcoming legislative session despite recent reports that Florida’s economy is growing. Costs for healthcare and education are increasing faster than state tax revenues are increasing, leaving a budget shortfall in the coming years if cuts in spending are not made. In addition, the new Speaker of the Florida House, Richard Corcoran, has made no secret of his disdain for business incentives. He has spoken publicly about incentives for our industry, calling them a “horrible, horrible use of taxpayers dollars.” Additionally, Speaker Corcoran has publicly expressed concerns about Enterprise Florida, the official economic development organization for the state of Florida, and VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s official tourism marketing corporation.
While we do not have support of the legislative leadership in the Florida House, there is overall strong support for our industry and we are engaged with those supporters. It’s important to note that Film Florida is not the only group working with legislators on behalf of our industry. Part of our task is coordinating with groups that may be proposing bill language to ensure our industry does not send mixed signals that could confuse legislators. Film Florida is in the process of working with legislative champions to submit a proposal that could lead to a bill. This dialogue is focused on the likelihood of a successful outcome. We believe wholeheartedly that our industry is not just important to the state of Florida, but can be part of the solution to the state’s potential budget challenges over the next couple years. We fully intend to show legislators how we can infuse much needed tax revenues into the state while putting Floridians to work, increasing economic development, enhancing tourism and helping diversify Florida’s economy.
Our government relations team, along with our legislative supporters, have suggested that we coordinate meetings with legislators that have leadership roles in important committees. While having 150+ industry professionals walking the halls in Tallahassee did get people’s attention, we need to look at the most effective use of people’s time, money and energy. As a reminder, what started in November and will continue through January, each county holds their legislative delegation meetings. During these meetings, members of the public can sign-up to speak for 3 minutes in front of their elected officials. Representatives of Film Florida and local Film Commissioners have already spoken at a number of these delegation meetings and will continue doing so throughout the state. This is another opportunity for legislators, especially newly elected members, to hear real stories from real people in the industry.
Many people have asked how they can help. Instead of asking people to make their way to Tallahassee for a day, we ask that you speak at your upcoming legislative delegation meeting. We would also ask that you schedule face-to-face meetings with your local legislators. Right now, the more legislators who are familiar with real people in their districts and the individual stories each of you have, the more impactful we will be in our efforts. We tell the stories every day, but hearing them from you will be more impactful. If we are fortunate enough to get a bill moving in the Florida House and Florida Senate, we will need help with targeted e-mails and phone calls asking committee members to vote in favor. We will be sure to let you know if or when those opportunities arise.
Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you have questions need guidance in attending your local delegation meeting or scheduling meetings with your local legislators. Many of you continue to send supportive messages via e-mail, phone and social media and we appreciate every one of them. Know that we are doing everything in our power to see positive results. The legislative session runs from March 7 – May 5, 2017. We promise to give as many meaningful updates as possible throughout the next 4+ months. But we cannot stress enough that our social media channels, especially Facebook and Twitter, are the most immediate form of communication you will find, whether it’s news stories, calls to action or general information. If you’re not currently connected with us there, please make sure to do so. We will provide more updates as they become available.