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Davis scuttles bill

Proponents hold out hope for state tax-credit

California Gov. Gray Davis’ decision to scuttle a bill that would provide tax credits for TV and film productions in the state has not deterred some of its proponents from holding out hope that it may yet be saved.

The measure, Assembly Bill 358, was consigned this week to the Senate Appropriations Committee’s so-called suspense calendar — where bills deemed financially untenable often languish and die — after Davis informed committee members he could not foresee approving a tax cut.

“He told the Democrats on the committee, ‘Don’t waste your time, I’m not going to sign it,'” said Jack De Govia, chairman of the Film & Television Action Committee, a grass-roots lobbying group formed to combat runaway production. “He told the Democrats to keep it in suspense, in effect to prevent it from being voted on. The governor killed this bill because he knew the Legislature would pass it and he didn’t want to veto it.”

But De Govia, who orchestrated three rallies in favor of the bill in recent months, said the war is far from lost.

“This is not final,” he said. “We’re still lobbying the governor. We’re asking him, if he doesn’t like this bill, to mend it. Let’s fix it. Lead us. The Legislature has demonstrated that this crisis is real and must be addressed. We call on the governor to tell us how to approach this crisis.”

Davis did not return a call seeking comment, but a spokeswoman, Hillary McLean, said the governor “has not taken a formal position on these bills.”

AB 358’s companion measure, AB 484, which has similar language, was withheld from Appropriations Committee consideration by its author, Assembly member Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), when it became clear that AB 358 — which provides a refundable 10% credit on labor for productions in California — was in trouble.

Reached in Sacramento, Kuehl said she had asked Sen. Patrick Johnston (D-Stockton), chairman of Appropriations, “not to even set 484 for hearing, so that if I got any signal from the governor’s office that any amendments would make the bill attractive to him, I would take those amendments and go to a hearing.”

In the absence of any such signal, Kuehl said, the bills “are dead for this year.” In January, they can be presented again.

“It’s my hope that, over the interim, we can do the kind of work that will convince the governor and his budget staff that this would be a good candidate for his budget proposal,” Kuehl said. “We’ll try to cut the cost way down, in order to make the cost cheaper to the state. For instance, we’ve got a proposal to limit the tax credit to the first year of production of a TV series.”

Kuehl said she never loses hope. “The first year that a brand new law is introduced in the Legislature it rarely passes,” she said. “You have to educate people to the problem. You have to convince them that our solution is the right one, you have to make them care. And that’s our job for next year.”

Assemblyman Scott Wildman (D-Burbank), author of AB 358, remains optimistic for the shorter term, taking into account that bills have to be out of the Legislature by Sept. 10, with Oct. 10 the deadline for the governor to sign or veto them.

“We’ll fight like hell to get this through,” Wildman said. “We’ve got a 50/50 chance. We’re going to fight to the bitter end because this is critical for the industry. If we put this off, if we wait another year, it will be too late. The industry will be gone.”