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Arizona Legislature OKs tax credits to lure film, TV productions

Film crew members worked in October 2021 on the set of the HBO Max show "Duster" in Tucson's Menlo Park neighborhood. However, "Duster" later moved its production to New Mexico. The organization Film Tucson said the decision was made because there were no state film incentives in Arizona. Legislation to create film tax credits is now on Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey's desk. 

PHOENIX — State lawmakers have agreed to use the lure of millions of dollars in tax credits to try to bring Hollywood to Arizona.

But some said they are not sure they want the folks associated with the film and TV industry here.

HB 2156, approved by both the House and Senate, would allow any production company to get up to $25 million when it uses an Arizona production facility or films a motion picture primarily in Arizona, as long as it does all of the pre- and post-production activities in the state.

The legislation, now headed to Gov. Doug Ducey, would permit the state to give away up to $125 million a year.

The idea, according to proponents, is to breathe new life into what was once a more thriving Arizona film industry dating back at least as far as the 1930s when John Ford saw Monument Valley and decided to film Stagecoach there with John Wayne.

The studios at Old Tucson were also for a long time the site of various Westerns, ranging from The Lone Ranger to Three Amigos, before much of the facility was destroyed in a 1994 fire.

But more recently, productions that are supposedly portraying events in Arizona are actually being filmed elsewhere.

Exhibit No. 1 for Rep. Richard Andrade, D-Phoenix, is the 2015 film Spare Parts. It was based on four students on a robotics team from Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix who built an award-winning robot with $800 and parts scavenged from an old car, competing against a team from MIT.

Only thing, Andrade said, is it was filmed in New Mexico which, unlike Arizona, offers tax incentives.

Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, said he has seen the same thing while watching movies and features on Netflix that were supposedly set in Arizona.

“But guess what? They weren’t filmed here, they weren’t spending their money here,” Cook said. “They were doing it somewhere else as a facade of ‘this is Phoenix and in Arizona.’”

“We are at a competitive disadvantage,’’ said Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson.

‘Woke’ Hollywood criticized

But Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, said she sees HB 2156 as a violation of the gift clause provision of the Arizona Constitution, which prohibits governments from making donations or grants to any individual, association or corporation.

The measure would provide a “refundable tax credit.’’ That means if the credits earned by a production company exceeded their actual tax liability, the state would write a check for the balance.

Bolick’s objections, however, went beyond financial and legal issues.

“We don’t need another carve-out for specific industries to attract ‘woke’ Hollywood actors and studios to our state,’’ she said.

Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, said the “woke” issue of Hollywood is just part of the problem.

“They are sexualizing our children, they are degrading our culture, they are glorifying violence,’’ he said.

“Hollywood does not represent the people of Arizona,’’ Hoffman continued. “It is not the industry the people of Arizona want.’’

He acknowledged that the legislation prohibits credits for anything considered “obscene.’’ But Hoffman said that still is too broad.

“Under this bill, if Hillary Clinton were to come here in 2024 and film a political commercial, she could qualify for a refundable tax credit,’’ he complained.

‘Blue-collar’ jobs cited

Rep. Teresa Martinez, R-Casa Grande, had a different take on all of this.

“I don’t like woke Hollywood, I don’t like their ideals, I don’t like their ideology,’’ she said. “But what I do like? I like jobs.’’

And Rep. Justin Wilmeth, R-Phoenix, said those who fear these tax credits will attract the wrong kind of people to Arizona are mistaken.

“The woke Hollywood liberals are not moving here,’’ he said. “What they do is fly to wherever they’re going, film their movie and leave.’’

He foresees a different scenario.

“The people who are going to come here are Trump voters,’’ Wilmeth said, referring to the people who work behind the scenes.

“They’re blue collar people,’’ he said. “And they’re going to live in areas that are already pretty red and they’re going to bring more Republican voters in.’’

Tax credits lost Arizona money last time

The record on such credits in Arizona is not good.

A 2009 report by state commerce officials said the 2008 credits designed to lure Hollywood producers to Arizona actually lost the state $6.3 million that year.

According to that study, the productions given credits generated 317 full-time jobs in the industry. Another 413 jobs were created indirectly through Arizona spending by filmmakers.

All totaled, the report said, that generated about $2.3 million in additional state and local taxes. But Arizona gave out more than $8.6 million in credits to get that benefit.

The state got rid of the credits a decade ago.

Proponents of this new version say it is different, with protections to ensure it does not lose money for the state.

Howard Fischer is a veteran journalist who has been reporting since 1970 and covering state politics and the Legislature since 1982. Follow him on Twitter at @azcapmedia or email

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