Leah Willingham Published

W.Va. Senator Worries Film Tax Credit Could Aid Bette Midler

Robert Karnes - March 9 2022.jpg

West Virginia senators passed a bill Wednesday that would reinstate the state’s film tax credit after one Republican lawmaker spoke against the legislation, saying it benefits Hollywood while “the people of West Virginia are left hanging out to dry.”

“I have a problem that Bette Midler qualifies for millions of dollars in tax credits,” said Republican Sen. Robert Karnes, the only senator to vote against the bill. Karnes said more resources should instead go to support regular people in the state.

“Gavin Newsom’s people are getting a little bit of almost heaven with this bill, but God’s people are basically told to go to hell,” he said.

Using the proposed tax credit, filmmakers could recoup up to 27% of spending on movies and television shows in West Virginia that cost at least $50,000 to make. The state would have no limit on the amount of film tax incentives it can give out in a year, according to the version of the legislation passed by the Senate on Wednesday.

The original version passed by the House would put a $10 million cap on tax credits each fiscal year, which starts in July. That bill said the office could give out more credits for any feature-length films produced with “West Virginia” in the title or if the subject of the film is “clearly identified as West Virginia.”

The House must now approve the Senate’s changes to the bill before it can be sent to the governor for signature.

West Virginia used to have a film tax credit, but it was ended in 2018 after a legislative audit report deemed the credit as providing only “minimal economic impact.” Republican Del. Dianna Graves, the lead sponsor, said she’s spent nine months closing the loopholes in meetings with the legislative auditor and others.

The bill’s supporters say other states in the region have the tax credit and West Virginia is missing out on projects coming to the state that could bring economic development opportunities to communities.

Democratic Sen. Hannah Geffert said Wednesday that when film crews come to West Virginia, they hire residents for jobs and spend money at West Virginia businesses.

“I wouldn’t reject us out of hand just thinking it’s about Bette Midler,” she said.

Midler has been mentioned more than once by West Virginia politicians in recent months after the singer and actress called West Virginians “poor, illiterate and strung out” in a tweet after Sen. Joe Manchin refused to support President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act.

After receiving backlash, Midler apologized “to the good people of WVA” for her “outburst” in a follow-up tweet later that day.

In January, Republican Gov. Jim Justice ended his televised State of the State address by lifting up his English bulldog and flashing its rear end to the cameras and crowd and saying: “Babydog tells Bette Midler and all those out there: Kiss her heinie.”

In his remarks on the House floor Wednesday, Karnes also mentioned Oscar-winning documentarian Michael Moore.

“When Michael Moore comes to West Virginia to do his much-anticipated biopic of former senator Richard Ojeda down in Logan County, the people of West Virginia are going to foot the bill for that,” he said.

Ojeda is a former West Virginia Democratic state senator who briefly ran for U.S. president in the 2020 election.