ST. GEORGE — Southern Utah’s stunning scenery is renowned for drawing in visitors, but it’s also attracting renewed interest from the film industry. As Utah celebrates 100 years of movie production, the state Legislature is considering a bill that would establish a permanent program for tax rebates in rural communities.

Ava Duran, Paiute Restoration Pow Wow Princess 2023-24, visits the film set on location for “Horizon: An American Saga 2,” directed by Kevin Costner (right), copyright Territory Pictures, Inc., Ivins, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Fred Hayes, St. George News

The motion picture incentives amendment bill, also known as the rural tax rebate program and designated HB 78 in the 2024 legislative session, repeals the sunset date for specific motion picture incentives available only for rural productions.

Greater Zion Sales and Events manager Joyce Kelly told St. George News that Washington County leaders support the bill.

“This bill should be considered as a rebate; dollars are distributed once the project has reached completion. This industry not only provides jobs in the film sector but also offers employment in a wide span of professions, including retail, food, lodging and services,” Kelly said. “It also offers an employment path for over 4,000 film students currently enrolled in higher education throughout the state.”

The timing of the legislation coincides with the Utah Film Commission’s celebration of Utah’s 100 Years in Film. Motion Picture Association of Utah President Jeff Johnson told St. George News that the bill was fine-tuned with no sunset clause so that it wouldn’t expire.

“Projects like ‘Horizon: An American Saga 2‘  who have come to Southern Utah not only have brought economic benefits through restaurants and hotels but have actually put people in rural communities to work,” Johnson said. “We’re very happy and honored to have the support of the Washington County legislative delegation.”

On Tuesday, the House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee heard testimony from multiple legislators mentioning the many emails they received supporting the bill. Kellie Evans of the Motion Picture Association sent an email to the acting community stating that letters written by Utahns supporting the bill made a powerful impact.

Tom Mix was the first movie star cowboy, seen here with his trusty Wonder Horse Tony. He came to Cedar City in 1924 to film ‘Deadwood,’ the first movie shot in Southern Utah. It was filmed at Cedar Breaks, Bryce Canyon and Zion Canyon, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy Wikipedia, St. George News

Evans said the bill was passed by the committee 7-2, with one absent, and after some fiscal tweaking, it will be sent to the House Floor, where it is expected to be heard in the next week or two.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jeffrey D. Stenquist, told St. George News when the film incentives program was established, there was an end date so the Legislature could evaluate if it was successful in proving “the returns that we’d hoped for before making it more of a permanent program.”

“So we’ve had a few years and we have really good data now that shows that it’s producing a very positive return on investment for the state of Utah and particularly for rural Utah communities,” Stenquist said. “The bill I have simply would take away that end date and make it an ongoing program. Now, that doesn’t mean that it would necessarily get funding … but it would just allow that program to be kind of more of a permanent program going forward.”

Stenquist said the bill needs to pass since it focuses on rural Utah. Although there’s a program in place, if his bill doesn’t pass, then all that money would go to the Wasatch Front communities.

The bill was presented at about $12 million per year for the rural portion of the film incentive bill. Yet Stenquist said the name of the bill can cause misconceptions. He said it’s more accurate to call the bill a rebate.

“A production comes in, they spend money, they buy things and then they take all of their sales receipts and they can then submit them to get a rebate back on a portion of some of their sales tax that they paid. So … they’re getting a rebate back after they’ve already spent the money,” Stenquist explained. “So it’s not like we’re giving them upfront money. That’s a really good thing to clarify.”

Movie and television productions are getting a rebate back a portion of what they spend in rural Utah. Stenquist said Utah needs to stay competitive with other states by offering the rebate.

“Without having a program like this, then we’re just not even part of the conversation for productions to come here,” Stenquist said. “I think people think this is money going to Hollywood, but it’s not. It’s money that’s being spent for jobs for Utahans.”

Stenquist said productions and their crew buy Utah services, go to restaurants and hotels and hire residents in the rural areas.

“For every dollar we put in we generate many more dollars coming back. So it’s an investment,” Stenquist said. “That money comes back. We’re often talking about a $12 million rebate program, but that’s generating over $360 million in economic activity that more than makes up for that tax money.”

Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2024 Utah Legislature by clicking here.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2024, all rights reserved.