Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick Vetoes Theater Tax Credit

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed an economic development bill that included many initiatives aimed at promoting growth in various sectors. But Deval, a noted arts supporter, vetoed a tax credit aimed at bringing pre-Broadway theater to the commonwealth's stages. The vetoed proposal focused on recouping profits from a business Massachusetts hasn't seen in quite some time.

Troy Siebels, president and CEO of The Hanover Theatre in Worcester, said, "It would have helped Massachusetts theaters like us compete with other theatres in neighboring states to launch either pre-Broadway shows, shows that used to play Boston before they would go to New York [City] or and this is more likely what would have affect us as the Hanover in Worcester, touring shows before they leave on national tour."

If put into law, theater companies would have been reimbursed for 25 percent of the total production and performance expenses of a show. The legislation was sponsored by Democratic Representative Nick Collins, and it made it through both the House and Senate, before stopping at the governor's desk. Collins says the idea was to help theaters in Massachusetts to better compete with other states that had passed similar laws to those in Illinois, Louisiana and in upstate New York. Collins said, "I believe Massachusetts should not play second fiddle to any other state and also the real job creation opportunities that were there and to strengthen our creative economy." A stipulation of the tax credit was that it only applied to theaters with at least 600 seats, excluding smaller venues. Collins says the reason for the limit was to insure significant job growth for backstage work on large productions. He said, "It's not something that I would have been against expanding beyond the borders of 600-seat capacity, but I think in order to make the case that this was going to be a significant job creator and one that we could actually measure, that is where the threshold become."

Greg Bialecki, the state's secretary for economic development, said on the matter, "The theater production tax credit I think even as supporters would admit was going to support really a handful of productions and a handful of theaters. So for example the R&D tax credit expansion which the governor did sign by contrast is available to companies doing research and development in any industry."

According to Siebels, those living near Worcester's Hanover Theatre with 2,300 seats could have seen more job opportunities. He said, "Whereas the cast for a show likely don't come from Massachusetts, some might, but they can come from anywhere and probably largely New York, the crew though is almost entirely going to be locals of the area that launches the show so that would have been Massachusetts crew. Lighting, sound, rigging, costume and props people. The same people that benefit occasionally by the Massachusetts film tax credit. This would have done the same thing for theater." Siebels also says that a Broadway production at The Hanover Theater requires a crew of 30 to 60 people. He says, "Now for The Hanover Theatre in Worcester those folks are only on contract for three to five days or a little longer depending on how show runs," Siebels said. "But obviously if a Broadway show is opening you talk about those people being on contract for a month or more."

Julia Dixon, the director of Berkshire Creative, says the proposal is a missed opportunity for the area. She said, "We're not Boston so these kinds of programs even if they do bring in temporary workers from New York can benefit the area so much."

Representative Collins was surprised Governor Patrick vetoed the legislation. He's also heard disappointment from labor organizers representing those who work off-stage. "We're not going to dwell on it too long, but we're go back to the drawing board and see how we can get this thing in place," said Collins.

"I hope that the effort comes back in the next session because I do think it's a worthwhile thing," said Siebels.

The Massachusetts Cultural Council didn't take a formal position on the proposal and Spokesman Greg Liakos noted Governor Patrick's track record in supporting the arts. Liakos said, "We think the most effective way to benefit the nonprofit theaters in Massachusetts is to increase funding for general operating support and to maintain the capital funds through the Cultural Facilities Fund."

Photo Credit: The Hanover Theatre's website

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