Look who’s getting tax credits

Antiques Roadshow, Dana Farber, Biogen Idec on list

The amount of film tax credits issued by the state plummeted in 2013. Some of the decline is undoubtedly due to paperwork timing issues, but the drop off is so big that it makes you wonder whether Hollywood took a temporary break from Massachusetts last year.

The data are contained in a new tax credit transparency report that identifies the recipients of some of the state’s most lucrative tax breaks. The report indicates 13 different types of tax credits worth $92 million were issued last year to a host of companies and individuals for historic rehabilitation, environmental cleanup, film production, dairy farming, and life sciences economic development. The tax credits are considered attractive because they can be used to reduce tax liabilities or be sold and converted into cash.

The state handed out $11.3 million in tax credits to the producers of movies, TV shows, and commercials in 2013, down from nearly $73 million in 2012 and nearly $38 million in 2011. The falloff is puzzling. Some of it may be due to lag times between when a movie is finished and when the paperwork for the tax credits is completed, but those lag times presumably would have existed in prior years as well. The tax credit is equal to 25 percent of whatever a production spends in Massachusetts.

More than $5 million, or nearly half of the 2013 total, went to one Hollywood film, Labor Day, starring Josh Brolin and Kate Winslett. Labor Day filmed in Massachusetts in 2012 and the size of the tax credit suggests the production spent roughly $20 million filming in the state, although typically two-thirds of the money spent by a production flows to businesses and workers like Brolin and Winslett who reside outside the state.

Most of the rest of the film tax credit money went for TV shows and commercials. WGBH received more than $2 million in tax credits, or nearly 19 percent of last year’s total. The money went for shows WGBH was probably going to produce anyway, including Frontline ($779,000), Nova ($512,000), American Experience($302,000), Antiques Roadshow ($241,000), Masterpiece Theatre ($237,000), and a handful of other shows.

Viewpoint Computer Animation of Newton snagged nearly $387,000 in tax credits for work it did for HBO, ESPN, National Geographic, NBC Sports, and others. Taxpayers also supported commercials made for Rockland Trust, Hasbro, Ocean Spray, Titleist, National Grid, Cheetos, Subway, Cambridge Savings Bank, both the Massachusetts and Connecticut Lotteries, and even the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism.

The state handed out $44 million in tax credits for hazardous waste cleanup in 2013. The credits are equal to 50 percent of “net response and removal costs” associated with a hazardous waste site on property used for business within an economically distressed area.

The biggest award went to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, which received a $12.7 million tax credit to offset the cost of removing three underground storage tanks at what is now the site of the Yawkey Cancer Care Center at 450 Brookline Av. The total cost of the removal and remediation project was $25 million. Dana Farber, a nonprofit, sold the tax credits at a discount to a company with a state tax liability and pocketed the cash.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The developer of the Liberty Mutual headquarters in the South End received a $10.2 million brownfields tax credit for hazardous waste work at the site. Liberty Mutual previously received other tax credits in connection with the project, including $22.5 million in investment tax credits and $16 million in property tax relief from the city of Boston. A spokesman for Liberty Mutual could not be reached for comment.

The state awarded $52.9 million in tax credits to developers rehabbing historic buildings, $22.9 million to life science companies (the largest was $5.5 million to Biogen Idec), $4 million to four companies planning expansions, and $4 million to dairy farmers across the state.