COLUMBIA -- South Carolina legislators said Friday they will try to put film industry incentives back in the state budget to keep "Army Wives" filming in the state and to attract other video productions, but they may face the governor's veto pen.
House Speaker Bobby Harrell thinks the incentives should remain. The Lifetime television series "Army Wives" shows how lucrative studio productions can be with producers buying from local businesses and cast members relocating, said his spokesman, Greg Foster.
The House renewed the incentive package in its budget plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1. It provides cash rebates -- 20 percent for South Carolina residents' wages and 30 percent for supplies purchased from in-state businesses -- for productions that film and spend at least $1 million in the state.
The rebates lead to "all this tax money rolling around in our communities," from hotel stays to the use of catering services to furniture sales, said Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Mount Pleasant.
"We're giving them the sleeves out of our vest, meaning we're giving them nothing. If we didn't give it to them, they wouldn't come here to start with," he said. "I can't tell you how many people in Charleston say they do business with 'Army Wives.' "
But senators removed the incentives this week from their $6 billion spending plan, repeating what they did last year.
Last year, the makers of "Army Wives" threatened to move the Charleston-based production if the incentives were not extended, and cast members went to the Statehouse to lobby legislators. The show has filmed in Charleston since 2006.
Earlier this week, the 100,000-square-foot Studio Charleston officially opened in a former warehouse that served as the hub for the 2008 filming of the movie "Dear John."
Officials hope the studio, which includes three sound stages and 40-foot ceilings, attracts the filming of more movies, television shows and music videos in South Carolina. But the incentives are essential, said Studio Charleston spokesman Doug Coupe.
One movie deal in the works could instead go in Savannah, Ga., Coupe said.
Former Gov. Mark Sanford vetoed the film incentives last year, saying they weren't appropriate in a year when lawmakers were making drastic cuts to basic services. Then-Rep. Nikki Haley was among just seven House members who voted to sustain his veto.
Now governor, Haley's position hasn't changed; she thinks past incentives have cost the state more than they brought in, said her spokesman, Rob Godfrey.
But he wouldn't say if the Republican governor would veto the provision if, as happened last year, the House manages to restore the film incentives in the final budget that reaches her desk.
"We'll take a look at whether they, in the end, benefit the state more than they cost us. Her action will be dependent on the answer to that question," Godfrey said.
Haley's general opposition to economic incentives has included a sales tax break for Amazon.com negotiated under her predecessor. After the House voted to reject the deal, the online retailer pulled the plug on a $100 million plan to open a distribution center in Lexington County and attract 1,250 full-time jobs. House leaders say they will try again.
Limehouse, who was among the 71 lawmakers voting against the Amazon deal, said the film incentives are different.
"There's a new air in the Legislature. Incentives in general are a lot tougher to get done these days," he said. "But the film industry won't come without them. South Carolina is a highly desirable place to film, but they could do it anywhere."
Rep. Jim Merrill called the Senate's decision shortsighted, especially with $210 million added this week to the state's projected revenue. He thinks the Legislature should go further with the incentives, approving them for longer than the current yearly extensions, to better compete with neighboring states.
"We should really go to two- to three-year commitments, so long-term shows and series will know in advance we're good for two or three years," said Merrill, R-Charleston.