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Virginia Politics
Posted at 12:00 PM ET, 04/13/2011

Virginia shells out money for Spielberg’s Lincoln movie

Updated, 12 p.m.

Here’s what we do know: Virginia is earmarking more than a half-million dollars to bring superstar film director Steven Spielberg’s Abraham Lincoln movie to the state.

The General Assembly approved an amendment last week to the state’s two-year, $78 billion budget that would include $1.5 million to replenish the state’s motion picture opportunity fund after $500,000 was set aside for the Spielberg movie.

How do we know that?

Del. Steve Landes (R-Augusta), who is part of a team that writes the budget, announced it on the House floor when the amendment was being debated, and Finance Secretary Richard Brown also told us about it in an interview.

But what we don’t know is this: Has Spielberg actually agreed to film in Virginia or is the state still trying to woo him here?

We asked the offices of Gov. Bob McDonnell, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who serves as the state’s chief jobs creation officer, Secretary of Commerce and Trade Jim Cheng and the state’s film office.

All of them refused to say. Legislators, including Landes, said even they had not been told whether the state was going to film in Virginia.

Apparently the McDonnell administration doesn’t think legislators — and Virginia’s taxpayers — should know how hundreds of thousands of dollars are being spent.

Update, 12 p.m.

The House voted 77-21 for the amendment. The Senate narrowly passed it 21-19.

“During our last budget debate, House Republicans said that it was important to focus on core government services and keep a sharp focus on priorities,’’ Del. Scott Surovell (D-Mount Vernon) said. “Many of us in the House voted against expanding the motion picture tax credit because we did not think Virginia should be doling out even more taxpayer funds to wealthy California movie stars and producers at the same time we are cutting secondary education, health care for the poor, and borrowing over $600 million from the state retirement plan to ‘balance’ our budget.”

McDonnell spokesman Jeff Caldwell responded to one of our questions Wednesday morning. He said “not a single dollar of that fund has been awarded to the producers of the Lincoln film. If and when any incentive package is signed, it will be announced publicly.”

Virginia has been trying to lure Spielberg to the Old Dominion for months.

He was scouting locations in Richmond in November when he stopped to have lunch with Rita McClenny, director of the Virginia Film Office, and Andy Edmunds, the office’s location manager, at Millie’s Diner.

The next day, Spielberg announced that his long-anticipated Lincoln biopic would focus on the road to abolition and the end of the Civil War.

McDonnell called Spielberg in December to help try to convince him to bring his new movie to Virginia. The two men spoke for about 20 minutes — mostly about their shared interest in World War II, sources in McDonnell’s administration tell us.

The $500,000 was part of a much larger package offered to Spielberg, including tax credits.

The General Assembly passed a bill this year allowing a tax credit of up to 20 percent for movies filmed in the state with expenses of at least $250,000 for taxable years beginning Jan. 1, 2011.

Lincoln, the 16th president, visited the former capital of the confederacy April 1865 right after the city fell and shortly before he was assassinated.

The film will be based on the 2005 book “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin and will star Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln. Filming is expected to begin in fall 2011 for release in 2012.

By  |  12:00 PM ET, 04/13/2011

 
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