June 19--Backers of proposed tax credits for live theater productions want Boston to reclaim its footing as the premiere city to stage pre-Broadway shows.
The statewide tax credits were included in the House's economic development bill passed last week to help Massachusetts compete with other states -- Rhode Island, Illinois, Louisiana and, most recently, New York -- that already have adopted them, according to state Rep. Nick Collins (D-Boston).
"The largest factor was giving a competitive advantage against other areas on costs to operate shows," he said. "The workforce that is used in the theater industry all come from this area -- as opposed to the actors -- so I think we can make the case that there's job creation out of this."
There's also the trickle-down effect to restaurants, hotels and other businesses, said John Walsh of the International Alliance Of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 11. "It has a positive impact not just for the people who work in the theaters," he said.
Shows bound for Broadway or off-Broadway within a year and Broadway tour launches would be eligible for up to $3 million in credits per production. Recipients also could sell or otherwise transfer the credits -- similar to the state's controversial film tax credits started in 2007.
Going back some 70 years, Boston'sEmerson Colonial Theatre was one of the premier theaters for pre-Broadway shows, hosting productions including "Porgy and Bess," "Oklahoma!" "Carousel" and "La Cage aux Folles," said Josiah A. Spaulding Jr., CEO of the Citi Performing Arts Center, which oversees the theater.
"But in the last several years, pre-Broadway shows have been going to other ... states primarily because (they) have ... a pre-Broadway tax credit," he said. "As one of the producers of (the Broadway musical) 'The Addams Family,' I would have much rather have had that in Boston. However with my partners, it made economic and business sense to go to New Orleans."
But the credits have detractors. Government needs to get away from the idea that just because something is good, it deserves a tax break, said Scott Drenkard, economist for the Tax Foundation in Washington, D.C. "Instead of carving out particular preferences for whatever industry happens to be making its case loudest, it's much better to have a tax code that has a broad base and a low rate that applies to everybody," he said.
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