New tax credit for live performances surfaces again

House leaders are trying once again to launch a new tax credit to lure live theater, dance, and musical productions to Massachusetts.

The so-called live performance tax credit received little attention on Monday when House Speaker Ron Mariano and his Democratic colleagues rolled out economic development legislation containing a tax relief package of more than $1 billion for Massachusetts.

Sandwiched between the tax cuts, rebates, and financial aid for hospitals, nursing homes, and hotels was the live performance tax credit, a controversial measure that the House had previously approved in 2014 and again in 2016. Former governor Deval Patrick vetoed the measure in 2014.

In dollar terms, the tax credit is fairly small — $5 million annually to offset the in-state payroll, production, and transportation costs of bringing a live stage musical, dance, or theatrical production to Massachusetts for its pre-Broadway or pre-off Broadway tryout or its national tour launch.

The concept behind the live performance credit is very similar to the state’s film tax credit, which provides lucrative incentives for productions to film movies, TV shows, and commercials in Massachusetts. 

The film tax credit passed originally in 2006, but it only became permanent last year after years of debate about its cost and benefits, including a commission analysis that said the credit succeeded in boosting employment but at a steep cost of $100,000 per job.

House leaders who are big fans of the film tax credit are now pursuing the live performance tax credit. Their proposal offers productions tax credits equal to 35 percent of all in-state payroll costs and 25 percent of production, performance, and transportation expenditures as well as out-of-state payroll costs related to the performance.

What makes the tax credit attractive is that it can be sold. Companies that book a theater here generally don’t pay much in taxes to the state. But the proposed new measure would allow them to sell the tax credit at a slight discount to a local business that does. That way both businesses would benefit – the touring company pockets cash and the local business pays less in taxes.

In April, state Inspector General Glenn Cunha sent a letter to the House’s top budget official, Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, urging him not to approve a theater tax credit until it is fully vetted. 

He said the 35 percent credit on in-state payroll costs would be the highest in the nation and warned that far too many of the expenditures covered by the credit would not benefit the Massachusetts economy.

“There is no evidence that the state’s return on investment will exceed the costs of the program,” Cunha said.

BRUCE MOHL

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

House tees up tax relief package: The House is preparing to vote on an economic development bill that includes $1 billion in short-term and permanent tax breaks and rebates. Roughly half would go to middle income residents in the form of one-time checks for $250 ($500 for married couples), and half would be spread across credits for child care, renters, seniors living in their own homes, low-income residents, and people inheriting estates.

– House leaders, who rolled the package out on Monday, said the permanent tax cuts would kick in in January. They billed the tax relief as a no-gimmicks approach in contrast to the call by Republicans and President Biden for a gas tax holiday.

– The economic development bill also includes hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for hospitals, nursing homes, hotels, and small businesses, plus more funding for housing and the unemployment insurance trust fund. Read more.

SJC greenlights early voting: The Supreme Judicial Court upholds the VOTES Act, which allows voting early by mail for any reason. Republicans who sought to block the law vowed to challenge the decision at the US Supreme Court, but Secretary of State William Galvin said he was moving forward with preparations for this year’s fast-approaching elections. “Catch me if you can,” he said. 

– Given the time constraints facing Galvin’s office to mail out ballots, the SJC issued an advisory only and said a full decision was coming. Read more.

Gadfly convicted of extortion: A Wellesley gadfly on public records and open meeting issues is convicted of extortion for threatening criminal charges against two of the town’s Select Board members if they failed to remove certain officials from their positions. Read more.

OPINION

No new prison: Suffolk University professor Susan Sered says a new state prison for women is not the answer and argues for “non-carceral” approaches to rehabilitation, with the majority of women who are imprisoned victims themselves of violence and trauma. Read more

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

South Boston state Sen. Nick Collins has emerged as a leading obstacle to quick approval of expansion plans for the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, which sits in his district. (Boston Globe

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State representatives seek to spend $15 million bolstering abortion care, including security for abortion clinics and a public education campaign about crisis pregnancy centers. (MassLive)

Mass. General Brigham will dramatically expand its program that provides high-level medical care to patients in their home. (Boston Globe)

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WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan pens an op-ed slamming President Biden for his upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia where he’ll meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman despite his “role in murdering Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi.”

ELECTIONS

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BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A liberal watchdog group wants Harvard and media outlets where he’s a contributor to disclose former Harvard president and US treasury secretary Larry Summers’s financial ties to corporate interests so it’s clear whether he could personally benefit from any of his opining. (Boston Globe

ARTS/CULTURE

A movie being released on Paramount+ tells the true story of a Michigan couple who found a legal way to game the Massachusetts State Lottery and win millions of dollars. (MassLive)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Four influential models sue several Springfield area bars and strip clubs, alleging that the clubs used their images in ads to promote clubs where they never worked. (MassLive)