Sue Malek

Montana’s film tax credit passed the Montana legislature in 2019.  The earnings for Montana in film jobs and associated services has astounded economists.  It’s not just filmmakers making money, carpenters, electricians, motel and restaurant owners, lumber yards and local communities have gained tremendously.

The series Yellowstone spent more than $75 million in the Bitterroot last year and the Yellowstone prequel 1923 spent an additional $75 million in Butte.  An economic study, completed by the Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research, concludes that these films not only created 527 new Montana jobs, $25.3 million in wages, $85.3 million gross receipts to businesses and $10.4 million in revenues for Montana, it resulted in more than $700 million in tourist spending in our state after Season 4 of Yellowstone was viewed across the US and in many European countries.

My goal in 2019 when I served my last session in the Montana legislature was to bring an industry to Montana that will provide good, high-paying jobs to people across our state, both in small towns and large, jobs that do not require years of additional education.  An industry that will highlight the beauty and diversity of our state.

Preparing for the 2019 session, I worked with more than 100 Montanans who were asking the legislature to incentivize film-making in Montana. Our problem was, none of us knew what was needed in the legislation.

Then, along came a former Warner Bros executive and attorney who had a vision of building a major film studio in Montana.  With no guarantees but with vast experience producing films in states across the US and in Europe, he spent countless hours shaping a bill that provides strong incentives for filmmakers to come to Montana, hire Montanans, train Montanans, while ensuring no film company will earn a tax credit until a year and a half after they paid their application fees to the State of Montana, completed work. and are audited. This bill has cost the State of Montana nothing and it earns us so much.

It was hard in a short 90-day session with hundreds of other bills being presented to persuade legislators on both sides off the aisle that this bill was the key to more prosperity and jobs across Montana.

Now, the evidence is in. Film companies come to Montana, they spend big, they train and hire Montanans, they renew communities. The bill was bipartisan in 2019. Expanding it in the 2023 session should be easy. We must replace the coal and oil industries that are closing down.

So what’s the hold-up in the Montana legislature?  In 2019, the tax credit cap was $10 million. After almost going through at $200 million in 2021, the cap was suddenly cut to $12 million with no explanation from the Republican majority or the governor’s office.

The legislature has proposed a $30 million cap this year. That cap will keep the current productions in Montana, but will not expand the industry. The cap must be higher.  Why such a low cap on a bill that is doing so much for Montana? We all know we need good jobs and new industry, not just in the Bitterroot and in Butte, but all across our state.

This bill is not about building high-cost retreats for wealthy tourists on our public lands. This is a bill for Montanans. Call your legislators and the governor’s office. Tell them we need the film industry in Montana and we expect our elected officials to do the right thing —- create good Montana jobs.

Sue Malek served in the Montana Senate from 2013 to 2021 and in the Montana House of Representatives from 2009 to 2013