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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 8, 2010

Bills aim to restore jobs in Film Office

BY Greg Wiles
Advertiser Staff Writer

The state Legislature is looking to add back jobs sliced from the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, including those lost when most of the state Film Office staff was let go.

A measure passed by the Senate Committee on Economic Development and Technology last week calls for restoring Film Office staffing to pre-cut levels, as well as those in DBEDT's Community Based Economic Development program and the Enterprise Zone/Partnership program.

The measure is one of several proposed at the Legislature in response to jobs lost last year as DBEDT Director Ted Liu looked for ways to meet budget cuts ordered by Gov. Linda Lingle. Four of the six positions in the Film Office fell to the budget knife, while several other programs within the department were also cut.

The Film Office staffing cuts produced the most criticism, with legislators and others expressing concerns that Liu had slashed jobs from a program that helped bring in high-profile projects that generated jobs. Liu assigned the tasks of the laid-off staffers to other department employees.

"These were programs areas that were contributing significantly to the economy," said Sen. Carol Fukunaga, D-11th (Makiki, Pāwa'a), who held hearings on the DBEDT cuts last year and has introduced a bill, SB 2144, to restore some of the staffing.

Fukunaga said the several hundred thousand dollars spent on the Film Office was worth the cost because of the amount of production work it helped generate.

"We continue to be concerned about the effect of the department's actions," Fukunaga said.

Fukunaga's bill and a companion House measure would set aside a dedicated budget for the Film Office from the state General Fund, along with designating a portion of the Community-Based Economic Development revolving fund to restore a manager's position. The Enterprise Zone/Partnership program's sole position would also be restored.

A House bill, HB 2844, proposes to restore Film Office funding through the creation of a special fund. Other bills would remove the Film Office from DBEDT's direct management oversight by attaching it to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Other bills would move the Small Business Regulatory Review Board to the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs from DBEDT, while seeking to restore a position for a small business advocate.

The Hawaii Government Employees Association recently testified in favor of Fukunaga's bill. saying DBEDT's elimination of film office specialists who handled film permitting and other work will likely result in considerable lost income for the state. Much of the work has been transfered over to staff within DBEDT's Creative Industries Division.

The Lingle administration also has proposed changes. One of its bills calls for replacing the Hawai'i Television and Film Development Board with a Hawai'i Creative Media Commission. It would also expand and rename the Hawai'i Television and Film Development Special fund into the Creative Media Development Special Fund.

Liu said he doesn't see the value of transferring the Film Office to the Hawaii Tourism Authority and said the Film Office has not missed out on any opportunities that he is aware of. Georja Skinner, head of DBEDT's Creative Industries Division and the former head of Maui County's film office, is now performing the tasks previously handled by former Film Commissioner Donne Dawson.

Moreover, Liu said, Skinner and her staff have been able to close on film deals that were pending. The state recently announced that the fourth installment of Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise would be shot in the state.

Several other pictures, including "The Descendants," and "Soul Surfer" are also being filmed here this year. Skinner recently told a legislative hearing that DBEDT supports the intent of the bill providing dedicated funding and that she was unaware of any film or television business that has been lost because of changes at the film office.