The Legislature on Saturday, May 22, 2021.
Photo: David Calvert / The Nevada Independent
A bipartisan group of Nevada lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday that would give massive tax credits aimed at bringing film production to Southern Nevada, including a $1 billion Sony expansion.
It’s the latest attempt at diversifying Southern Nevada’s gaming and tourism-reliant economy, which was hit hard by the pandemic.
The $190 million annually in tax credits for 20 years would be the largest proposed tax incentive package in recent state history, even after its deals with Tesla and Redwood Materials totaled hundreds of millions of dollars each. But unlike those deals, which used direct tax abatements, these tax credits would only be awarded upon completion of the films at studios built by private developers.
The legislation would involve the state entering an agreement with private developers who would pay for two film production sites — one on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and another in the Summerlin area.
“It creates a whole new industry in Nevada,” the bill’s sponsor, Democratic state Sen. Roberta Lange of Las Vegas, said in an interview Thursday. “I think it helps build and diversify our economy, which is something we’ve talked about in Nevada for as long as I’ve lived here.”
Even with a hearing scheduled for Tuesday, the bill faces a tight deadline and further complicates the final month of Nevada’s legislative session, where Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo has sparred with the Democratic-controlled Legislature on its historic $11.6 billion budget.
It also comes as a funding bill to bring the Oakland A’s to Las Vegas is expected to drop any day. The A’s originally asked for $500 million in public assistance for a $1.5 billion stadium site, but have reportedly lowered that number.
A spokesperson for Lombardo, who promised no new taxes on the campaign trail, declined to comment on the film production tax credits bill.
In a statement, a Sony spokesperson said the company is supportive of the film industry’s expansion into Southern Nevada and would commit up to $1 billion on production over the next decade “pending the passage of legislation guaranteeing a competitive Nevada production incentive.”
Under the bill, production companies would apply for the transferable tax credits, which are used to offset the modified business tax, insurance premium tax or gaming license fee. The tax credits could be 30% of production and construction cost for films — up from the current 15% threshold. Part of those tax credits would fund local workforce training and educational programs for jobs that the studios create.
The developers of the UNLV and Summerlin sites would foot the bill for development of the production studios, projected at $500 million and $400 million respectively by 2030.
“The risk is really on the developers, not on the state of Nevada,” said Republican Senate Minority Leader Heidi Seevers Gansert, of Reno, who co-sponsored the bill.
Brandon Birtcher, co-owner of Birtcher Development, which is developing the UNLV site, said it’s still being determined which film or content creator would use his site. Sony is planned for the Summerlin site, run by the Howard Hughes Corp.
Tax incentives for some of the nation’s largest companies have become a major driver of recent efforts to diversify Nevada’s economy. The Las Vegas area was hit particularly hard during the pandemic and is particularly reliant on gaming and tourism.
In Northern Nevada, major tax incentives have focused on the U.S. transition to green energy. The governor’s economic development office awarded Tesla $330 million in tax abatements in March for a multi-billion dollar expansion, as well as $105 million in tax incentives to Redwood Materials in December, a massive lithium battery recycling plant.
Stern is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.