The 125th Legislature made great strides toward improving Maine’s business climate, drastically reducing regulatory red tape, lowering taxes and getting the state’s fiscal house in order. Much more, however, needs to be done.

Maine is missing a golden opportunity, for example, to attract more film production to our state. Anyone who watches movies knows Maine has been used countless times as a setting for films and television shows. Film production companies who have worked here in Maine have raved about our beautiful scenery, the cooperation and friendliness of the local population and our commitment to help keep their costs down.

And while the success stories are numerous, with productions such as “The Preachers Wife,” “Message in a Bottle” and “Empire Falls,” too many movie projects could have been filmed in Maine but weren’t.

When producers have a film whose story takes place in Maine, they usually shoot it in Michigan, Vancouver or elsewhere in Canada so they can capitalize on film incentives. Like every other business, the film industry operates on a limited budget, and where they choose to film often comes down to a cost/benefit analysis.

A film producer must show the investor a blueprint for a return on investment. Shooting a film in a film incentive state reduces the risk to the investor via the incentives and secures a portion of the return on investment.

That’s why I sponsored LD 384, “An Act to Provide Incentives to Foster Economic Growth and Build Infrastructure in the State,” to provide tax incentives to film producers who shoot projects here.

In order to qualify for the film incentives, a production company would have to follow strict guidelines related to hiring and training Maine residents, allocate funds for investment in infrastructure, and use existing Maine businesses such as payroll processing, banking and transportation.

With this film incentive bill, Maine would pay no money until after production takes place, which creates revenue for the state through employment tax, business tax and other fees.

The bill had overwhelming support in the House and in the Senate. Unfortunately, it died when it got to the Appropriations Committee, because of inflexible financial mandates for such tax incentives. That’s why I plan, if re-elected, to present new legislation that will free the hands of the Appropriations Committee to allow bills such as LD 384 to clear the Legislature and reach the governor’s desk.

Film companies that come to Maine have an enormous financial impact on the state. Large-scale productions hire hundreds of workers who rent hotel rooms, eat in restaurants, shop and spend money in countless other ways. The companies also hire local contractors to work on sets, drive trucks and operate machinery. At a time when Maine is trying to prove that it is, indeed, open for business, we simply cannot afford to let these opportunities pass us by.

Significant progress has been made in the last two years. One of the first priorities for the 125th Legislature was scaling back excessive government regulations and red tape that business owners throughout the state identified as their No. 1 obstacle.

We passed regulatory reform that rolled back layers of redundant regulations. The state also now has a small business advocate to help small businesses navigate the state’s regulatory maze. There’s been a big drop in the amount of time it takes to get permits issued.

The changes also are being noticed nationally. Long considered one of the worst states in which to do business, Maine moved up from 36th place to 32nd in this year’s survey of the best and worst states in which to do business.

Unemployment is still far too high, but at 7.2 percent, it is well below the national average. The rate dropped in June, which is unusual, analysts say, because that is a time when students and young graduates enter the job market, which usually drives the rate higher.

We have come a long way in a very short time to reverse many of the policies that have held Maine back for decades. And we proved that we could do it in a bipartisan manner, avoiding the gridlock that plagues Washington. It is clear, however, that much more needs to be done.

Rep. John Picchiotti, R-Fairfield, serves on the Legislature’s  Insurance and Financial Services Committee.

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