Published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
By Susana Martinez
August 18, 2018
When I took office in 2011, we faced a projected $450 million budget deficit. To get state government back on track, we had to set new priorities, cut wasteful spending, reduce the size of the state bureaucracy and reform spending practices.
As part of a broad, bipartisan agreement to close our deficit, the Legislature and I enacted significant changes to New Mexico’s film incentive program, including — for the first time — capping the amount the state would pay each year in reimbursements for film and TV production expenses. We also closed loopholes in the incentive that had led to past abuse. Then in 2013 — in recognition that TV projects are typically longer-running and provide more stable employment — we raised the cap to 30 percent for TV series in the Breaking Bad bill.
As part of our reforms, smaller TV and film productions receive their rebate payments right away, and larger productions are paid out over several years. And, if there’s room under the cap, payments can be accelerated.
These reforms prevented cuts to classroom spending and health care services that would have otherwise been made — and not just in 2011. Imagine if the state had been required to fund more than $100 million in film industry payouts each year during our recent energy price crisis; taxes would have been raised on families and small businesses, education and health care programs would have been deeply cut, or the film incentive would have been scrapped altogether.
By capping the annual total payout of the film incentive, we brought stability and predictability to the state budget and ensured the viability of the film incentive for years to come. No longer would the state see large, erratic and unpredictable swings in annual spending to incentivize TV and film production.
By any objective measure, New Mexico’s film incentive is working incredibly well — for our film industry, workers and taxpayers alike.
Between 2014 and 2016, direct spending in New Mexico’s economy on the production of movies and TV series more than doubled — from $162 million to $387 million. The number of large production projects increased from 18 to 30.
Then 2017 came along and shattered the figures from previous years. More than half a billion dollars were spent in New Mexico on over 60 large film and TV projects that produced nearly 450,000 days’ worth of work for industry employees. As is the nature of this cyclical industry, several of these productions have since concluded, and 2018 is expected to be more in line with previous years.
The results speak for themselves and prove wrong the naysayers and special interests who insisted, with great hyperbole, that the incentive cap would kill our film industry back in 2011.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 13 states have ended their film incentive programs in recent years, often citing budget unpredictability as a reason. That is not the route we took. We chose to reform and improve our incentive instead, mitigating fiscal uncertainty while still providing room for the industry to grow and thrive in New Mexico. And grow it has! Any future adjustment to the incentive should build on this successful approach.
Diversifying New Mexico’s economy requires us to compete for jobs — of all types and throughout the private sector. We chose to compete — over the long haul — for film industry jobs, just as we have for construction, manufacturing, health care, energy and other types of jobs. It will be a long road, but New Mexico’s economy is diversifying in front of our eyes. Our unemployment rate is at its lowest point in a decade, tax revenues are soaring, and more than 50,000 private sector jobs have been created since I took office.
Choosing to compete — and to grow our economy in the right way — is clearly paying off.