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Film Incentive Program Among Bevin's Proposed Budget Cuts

Gov. Matt Bevin
J. Tyler Franklin
Gov. Matt Bevin

Gov. Matt Bevin proposed eliminating 70 state government programs during his budget address Tuesday night.

Not included in that list is a controversial and costly program he also plans to phase out: the film tax incentive program that has promised more than $148 million in incentives to filmmakers.

In a press release sent during Bevin's speech, the governor said his budget closes the film subsidies to any new applicants. He didn't explain the decision.

A story from the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting last year found that the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority began to hold its discussions about the projects in secret even as as the applications rose astronomically.

They also never rejected an application.

The program began modestly in 2009 under Gov. Steve Beshear. But in 2015, the legislature dramatically increased the subsidy to offer reimbursement up to 35 percent of in-state costs, without a cap. A huge uptick in new movie projects followed, and by October, the state had promised more than $148 million in incentives.

More than half of that money was approved in 2017 alone.

The finance authority was scheduled to hold a meeting last week, and it had nine new film projects to consider on the agenda. But the meeting was cancelled, for lack of a quorum.

Bevin’s proposal is not binding. Each chamber of the legislature will draft their own budgets before negotiating a final compromise.

In an emailed statement, Garry Gupton, spokesman for the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, said the cabinet's secretary recommended ending the program. The money saved would be reallocated to the general fund, Gupton said.

"In light of Kentucky's current fiscal condition, we can no longer justify the potential expenditures of the film incentive program," Gupton said.

.Americans for Prosperity-Kentucky, a libertarian-leaning advocacy group backed by the conservative Koch brothers, issued a statement Wednesday praising Bevin's proposal and calling the film incentives "outrageous corporate welfare."

This story has been updated.

Kate Howard can be reached at  khoward@kycir.org and (502) 814.6546.