(KCPW News) A film incentive that could cost the state $7.8 million has won unanimous support in its first vote in the Utah Senate, even in this year of drastic budget cuts. The bill struck a nostalgic note for Salt Lake County Sen. Howard Stephenson, who fondly recalled the era when southern Utah was called "Little Hollywood" because of the hundreds of westerns filmed here.
"As a teenager, I learned the meaning of hard work working in Utah's Little Hollywood, both as a bellhop at Perry's lodge, where the movie stars all stayed as well as on the movie sets. And I'll tell you, it is hard work," Stephenson said. "And for the communities that get this kind of business, it's a tremendous boost to their economies."
The bill increases the current incentive that gives film producers a 15 percent credit on what they spend while filming in the state. If approved, the credit would increase to 20 percent. Other states offer incentives of up to 40 percent. The bill would also increase the film incentive fund from $2.2 to $10 million. But even though this will cost the state millions, bill sponsor Sen. Lyle Hillyard said the investment is expected to generate returns of more than 200 percent.
For southern Utah Senator Dennis Stowell, the bill is an opportunity to revive an industry that took the landscape of his senate district to the silver screen.
"Southern Utah is such a diverse setting. You have deserts, valleys, snow capped mountains all in close proximity," Stowell said. "Right now, Utah's kind of at the bottom of the pack, as far as incentives go. And with this, we'll be about in the middle of the pack."
The incentive will be held until the last days of the general session, when legislative leaders prioritize and vote on all the bills that have a significant price tag. But the odds are in favor of the bill. Its sponsor is the co-chairman of the legislative budget committee, it's already won unanimous approval on a preliminary vote and it has the support of Governor Jon Huntsman.