Audit of Hawai‘i’s Motion Picture, Digital Media, and Film Production Income Tax Credit
Auditor’s Summary, Report No. 16-08
What problems did the audit work identify?
IN REPORT NO. 16-08, Audit of Hawai‘i’s Motion Picture, Digital Media, and Film Production Income Tax Credit, we found that insufficient administration of the film tax credit by the Department of Taxation (DoTAX) and the Hawai‘i Film Office has likely increased the cost of the credit while overstating the possible economic benefits that it provides to the State.
Why did these problems occur?
DOTAX HAS BROADENED THE SCOPE of the film tax credit by including out-of-state expenses as “qualified production costs.” That action is inconsistent with the plain language of the statute and the Legislature’s intent that the incentive would stimulate economic growth in Hawai‘i. For example, expenditures paid to out-of-state businesses and service providers do not infuse money into Hawai‘i’s economy or provide income for local residents; they do not create local jobs.
We also found that DoTAX has not adopted administrative rules needed to provide assurance that the film tax credits are sufficiently administered. Without such rules, tax credit qualifications are unclear, the film office does not have the administrative tools to enforce deadlines and other filing requirements, and there is no requirement that production costs be independently verified as qualifying for the tax credit. We have serious concerns about DoTAX’s extended delay in promulgating rules. It has been more than ten years since the current form of the film tax credit was enacted.
Although the film tax credit law has existed in its current form since 2006, DoTAX has yet to promulgate rules.
While we strongly recommend that DoTAX promulgate rules without further delay, we found a number of provisions in the most recent public version of the proposed rules that should be revised to provide greater assurance that the film tax credits are being managed in accordance and consistent with the statute’s intent.
We also found that the film office’s analysis of film tax credit data does not measure the incentive’s true costs and reports economic impacts that are based on incomplete and overstated data. For instance, it includes an unknown amount of out-of-state expenditures and wages paid to nonresidents, as well as inaccurate production expenditure data. For example, highly paid producers, directors, actors, and crew are often residents of other states. While they may spend some of their salary or wages in Hawai‘i, it is very unlikely that a significant percentage of their Hawai‘i earned income flows into the local economy. Including these salaries and other out-of-state expenditures in the calculation of benefits to the State significantly over-inflates the film tax credit’s economic impacts. Instead, the film office should report to the Legislature on the quality of the jobs generated by film productions. Currently, the film office collects this type of information from production companies applying for the tax credit, but it does not track or report on it.
Why do these problems matter?
THE FILM TAX CREDIT is set to sunset at the end of 2018, at which time the Legislature will need to decide whether the benefits of the program justify its continuing costs. Unfortunately, the film office cannot provide the Legislature with the relevant, accurate, and timely data necessary to make this determination.
read … Auditor’s Summary
read … FULL REPORT
Big Q: Should the state be providing tax credits to attract film and TV productions to Hawaii?
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