A bill proposing to end Connecticut’s film tax credit program has received support across the ideological and political spectrum, but companies and workers in the industry turned out en masse to oppose it. CREDIT: SHAHRZAD RASEKH / CT MIRROR

One of Connecticut’s largest business tax credit programs, which has conveyed over $1.5 billion to film and television productions in the state over nearly two decades, could be cut this year.

The General Assembly is weighing legislation that would eliminate the incentive programs, and the bill has drawn support from both Republican and Democratic party leadership. The bill’s sponsors include House Majority Leader Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, and Deputy House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford.

As the legislature wrestles with self-imposed spending and borrowing caps — which have constrained state investments in education, social services and tax relief for low-income families — the prospect of eliminating an annual business incentive program of more than $100 million has broad ideological appeal.

“This session, it is imperative that the General Assembly use the funding available to it in ways that provide benefits for individuals most in need of aid,” Rojas said in written testimony to the legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee. “The current scope of the Film Tax Credit does not achieve this, and its elimination would open opportunities to better serve all of Connecticut’s communities.”

But the industry is fighting back. On Wednesday, a public hearing on H.B. 5110 drew more than 200 public comments opposing the bill. Actors, producers, film editors and other technicians who work in film and television turned up to the Legislative Office Building wearing matching purple T-shirts and holding signs that read: “FILMS = JOBS.”

Name brand media companies with significant operations in the state, including ESPN and NBCUniversal, also argued for keeping the tax credits in place. In written testimony, the companies outlined the economic impact they’ve had in the state.

Veronica Sullivan, a senior vice president, said NBCUniversal has invested more than $1 billion in Connecticut and employs 1,500 people across multiple sites, including the global headquarters for NBC Sports in Stamford and New Britain-based NBC Connecticut station WVIT.

“The stability of this economic development tool is a significant factor in our decision-making for future expansion in Connecticut and further growth of permanent full-time jobs,” Sullivan wrote.

Mark Brennan of ESPN highlighted the company’s 1.5 million square feet of operations at its headquarters in Bristol, where it employs 3,600 people. Those operations, Brennan and Sullivan said, also support hundreds of local vendors.

“Repealing or changing the credit will not only affect the media ‘industry’ in the state — but will cause a chilling effect on ESPN future growth in Connecticut and a ripple effect throughout the state economy,” Brennan wrote.

Much of the testimony from industry representatives argued that without the incentive program, film, television and media production would likely leave Connecticut for other locations with stronger tax credit programs — echoing the conclusion of a 2022 report from the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development.

But that very argument is reason enough to seriously consider eliminating the credits, said Patrick O’Brien, an analyst with economic policy and children’s advocacy group CT Voices for Children, who testified in support to the bill.

“There could be an argument made for, ‘Well, we’ll lose money short-term, then you’ll have a self-sustaining industry,’” O’Brien told lawmakers Wednesday. “But the primary argument for maintaining these tax credits is essentially that the industry is going to collapse without them. From a public policy perspective, that’s really an argument for eliminating them — it just means you’re on a financial dead end.”

Instead, CT Voices wants to see the legislature redirect the annual $100 million in film tax credits toward a child tax credit, which they argue would offer a stronger return on investment.

CT Voices was joined in its opposition by the Yankee Institute, a conservative think tank. Bryce Chinault, a lobbyist for the group, suggested redirecting the funds to a new tax credit program lawmakers are considering, H.B. 5101, which would incentivize donations to nonprofit organizations that fund education scholarships.

“You could give tax credits to make orange groves along the Merritt Parkway, and you might be able to grow some. That doesn’t mean it’s an effective use of scarce resources,” Chinault said.

“A much more efficient way of growing both the film and [broader] industry here is to lower taxes and make this place a more workable and tenable place where people can live, grow and prosper than it is to single out any one industry in this way.”