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Georgia's film industry is thriving -- and it's costing taxpayers

Taxpayers are on the hook for subsidies more than ever.

ATLANTA — Georgia’s film industry has thrived in spite of the pandemic, according to a Kennesaw State economist who has analyzed the state’s film tax credit.  

Boosters say Georgia has become one of the most popular filmmaking destinations in the world. The state created a generous tax credit more than a decade ago -- directing payments from the state treasury to filmmaking businesses.

"There are companies continually coming in here, and say 'why go anywhere else when we can go to Georgia?'" said Lishers Mahone, who rents automobiles to the film industry. That makes him an indirect beneficiary of Georgia’s approach to an industry that reopened within only a few months after COVID stalled much of the economy.  

Economist JC Bradbury said the state’s subsidy of the film industry climbed to more than a billion dollars last year.

"What happens with film tax credits is that taxpayer dollars instead of going to state treasuries, go to the film industry," Bradbury explained.  "And that’s money that leaves the state for the most part since (the) film industry is mostly located outside the state of Georgia."

Bradbury said each household in Georgia paid $220 annually to support the film industry in 2019.  

Three years later, he says that amount shot up by one-third to $330 per household.

"This is almost five percent of the state budget. It’s insane," Bradbury said.

Thang Ho opened a small film studio three years ago and hopes to tap into this benefit.

"Now, we’re working on developing original content," he said.

Ho sees a state where Republicans demonize Hollywood liberals – yet funnels tax money to an industry rooted in Hollywood.

"It is surprising it is still here," Ho said. "And I hope it stays that way."

Gov. Brian Kemp will be part of a groundbreaking next week at a film studio expansion.

State officials like to describe the state’s subsidies to the film industry as a good thing because of the jobs created. They tend to talk less about how much it costs taxpayers.

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