RALEIGH — State Rep. Ted Davis, R-New Hanover, bucked conservative critics who strenuously objected to making a $30-million taxpayer subsidy to Hollywood a permanent annual state allocation.
In fact, he helped lead the charge to approve Senate Bill 582, an omnibus measure that repealed a sunset provision for the Film and Entertainment Grant Program that was scheduled to end in July 2020.
“I asked for this to be put in the bill,” Davis said of the permanency provision. Indeed, he said, $30 million “is not as much as I would have liked to have seen.”
The movie and TV film industry employs people in his county, and across the state, and adequate state funding is necessary to maintain that employment, he said. Because film productions are years in the planning, they should be assured funding is available, and lawmakers sunsetting the subsidies was a mistake.
Not everyone agrees.
“Taking money from taxpayers to fund movies and line the pockets of Hollywood bigwigs is a gross misuse of taxpayer money, and a reverse Robin Hood of the worst kind,” said Donald Bryson, director of the grass-roots organization Americans for Prosperity-North Carolina.
“This is blatant corporate welfare, and a surefire example of legislative malpractice,” Bryson said. “Taxpayers do not think of ‘Iron Man 3’ when they think of reasons to send their hard-earned money to Raleigh, yet this program doles out tens of millions to well-connected Hollywood studios every year.”
Jon Sanders, director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, called removal of the sunset provision “a stealth giveaway.” He criticized the “special favoritism” for a selected industry.
Other states are getting out of the film incentives business altogether, while North Carolina is jumping back into the subsidy pool, Sanders said.
Davis wasn’t the only one championing what opponents saw as crony cash. Sens. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, and Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, issued a joint statement earlier this year praising Senate budget writers for making $30 million available in the grant program.
The technical corrections bill passed on votes of 69-46 in the House, and 29-17 in the Senate.
Extending the film program is one of several substantial policy provisions folded into S.B. 582. Legislative leaders often slip major policy initiatives into these “technical corrections” bills, drawing objections from critics who argue the measures bypass the normal vetting process.
Lawmakers vigorously debated another provision of the bill that requires the state Attorney General’s Office to handle all criminal appeals instead of delegating cases to district attorneys who handled the original trials.
Rep. David Rogers, R-Rutherford, said his legal interpretation of the bill is that a district attorney could ask the attorney general to handle specific cases of particular interest or involving complex subject matter.
“All this bill does really is preserve the status quo,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake. Republican and Democratic district attorneys asked him for the change, he said.
Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat wrangling with Republican lawmakers over a $10 million budget cut, had announced plans to push the appeals onto local prosecutors.
House Minority Leader Darren Jackson, D-Wake, said Stein eliminated 23 attorneys and still needs to find $3 million more in reductions to meet what he contends was a politically motivated 38 percent cut to his budget.
Rep. Billy Richardson, D-Cumberland, said the General Assembly was substituting its will and policy preference over that of a statewide elected constitutional officer.
“We’re doing it out of meanness, and spite, and that is wrong,” Richardson said.
Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, a former U.S. attorney, warned the budget cuts will have an adverse impact on the quality and quantity of criminal appeals handled by the attorney general.
He projected that convicted criminals will appeal in great numbers, overwhelming the AG’s office. Timely court settings will become impossible, he said.