House of Cards toys with Maryland legislature for tax credits

The Washington Post reported last week that the Maryland House of Delegates decided to allocate at most $18.5 million in film tax credits, up from the current maximum of $7.5 million used to reward production companies that film in Maryland. The vote comes after popular Netflix series House of Cards threatened to move its production elsewhere if it did not receive sufficient tax credit for its filming of season three.

Back in Feb. 2014, several state legislators complained about the large amounts of tax credits House of Cards received and had hesitated to increase the allocation of film tax credits. The show had received $26 million for the first two season; it expects to receive another $15 million for season three, although the state government had only promised $4 million for season three before last week’s vote.

However, the Maryland Film Office states that House of Cards is a significant contributor to Maryland’s economy and employment. According to a Dec. 2012 report, filming of the first season alone added more than $147 million into the state economy.

Vox must speculate that the show’s unscrupulous protagonist, Frank Underwood, must have influenced how both state legislators and the House of Cards producers acted.

The show’s production company, Media Rights Capital, sent an ominous warning letter to Maryland Gov. Martin O’ Malley a few weeks before season two’s Valentine’s Day premiere. “In the event that sufficient incentives do not become available, we will have to break down our stage, sets and offices and set up in another state,” the letter read.

Media Rights Capital pushed the start date of filming back to June in anticipation for the state legislature to respond positively to its requests. Additionally, in Mar. 2013, Kevin Spacey lobbied (whipped?) Maryland legislators on the issue at a private event at an Annapolis local wine bar, just as his alter-ego did in Congress on the show.

Some legislators were unmoved by the show’s threats. Members of the Maryland House of Delegates even voted in late March to seize the show’s property and equipment using eminent domain if the show decided to leave the state, though that threat is now moot.

Vox is highly concerned that the lines between political reality and fantasy have begun to blur with this debacle.

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