Tags: maryland | tv | show | dispute

Maryland Pols Make 'House of Cards' Power Play on Popular Show

By Joe Battaglia   |   Friday, 28 Mar 2014 02:50 PM

In a case of life imitating art, the Maryland House of Delegates passed a hardball budget amendment Thursday threatening to seize the property of the television show "House of Cards" by eminent domain if producers follow through on their threat to film outside the state unless they receive a hefty tax break.

Makers of the Netflix hit political thriller have been angling to for tax relief exceeding the $26.6 million it is currently claiming. Just last week, actor Kevin Spacey was deployed to Annapolis to try and charm money out of legislators over crab balls, filet mignon skewers and themed cocktails at the Red Wine Bar.

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But if that doesn't help persuade the state to approve more tax credits, producers have made clear their intention to leave Maryland, the Washington Post reports.

In a letter to Gov. Martin O'Malley that was published by the Post, Charlie Goldstein, senior vice-president of television production for Media Rights Capital, indicated that beginning of filming of the show's third season had been delayed until June to ensure that a big enough increase has been approved. Without that further reimbursement, Goldstein threatened that his company would "break down our stage, sets and offices and set up in another state."

At a budget hearing last Friday, Del. Mark N. Fisher said, "We're almost being held for ransom."

Refusing to sit by idly, Del. Bill Frick on Thursday channeled the legislative mastery of Frank Underwood, the lead character portrayed by Spacey on "House of Cards," and introduced a measure that would enable Maryland to use eminent domain to seize the property of film production companies receiving more than $10 million in tax credits should they opt to decamp and move to another state.

The amendment reads "the Department of Business and Economic Development, under certain circumstances, to exercise certain powers of eminent domain to acquire by purchase or condemnation certain property of certain film production entities that cease film production activity in the State; requiring that certain proceedings be conducted in a certain manner; authorizing, under certain circumstances, that certain property may be taken immediately on payment for the property in a certain manner."

Although it does not specifically mention "House of Cards," the show receives a considerably-higher tax break than "Veep," which is also filmed in Maryland, according to The Washington Post.

Having passed, the amendment now heads to a panel of House and Senate negotiators to iron out differences in the state's $39 billion budget before the April 7 end of the legislative session. The conference committee would then need to accept the change for it to remain in the budget.

"Frank would not respond by just cutting them a larger check," Frick told WBAL. "That's not what Frank Underwood would do. So, to me, it required a little bit of hardball, and that was hardball."

In recent years, Maryland has spent in excess of $40 million to reward movie and television production companies that choose to film in the state, and more could be on the way. The state Senate has already approved language in the budget allotting the state $18.5 million to give out in tax credits, an increase from $7.5 million. The House hasn't acted on the measure.

"This just keeps getting bigger and bigger," Del. Eric G. Luedtke, a past proponent of film tax credits, told The Washington Post. "And my question is: When does it stop?"

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