Scroll to the bottom of the story for an interactive database showing the tax credits the state gave out, or view a mobile phone-friendly version here.
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Tuesday, as WKBN’s investigation into tax credits doled out by the Ohio government for movies started appearing online, state officials have tried to stop us from showing you this story.
The state of Ohio will pay out $40 million in 2015 to film companies and commercial producers, more than ever before. But when 27 Investigates reporter Amanda Smith tried to follow that money, she hit a road block.
She asked for thousands of documents, but found the state keeping her in the dark.
Documents given by the state show how much Ohio gave to each movie or TV show filmed in the Buckeye State but didn’t specify if your tax money bought equipment, hired local workers, or went towards other expenses.
The state of Ohio gave High Noon Entertainment $282,000 to make “Polka Kings” with the Chardon Polka Band.
“We have a reputation for being a punk rock polka band because we are a little more extreme than your traditional polka bands,” band member Jake Kouwe said.
That Colorado company used Ohio state tax money to film a reality TV show about the band and their hijinks.
The legislature passed Ohio’s Motion Picture Tax Credit to prop up the film industry in the state.
Films that get the money are supposed to create jobs for Ohio residents and rely on local companies. But when WKBN looked in the credits for many of the shows filmed in Ohio, very few of the people were based in Ohio.
“I know a lot of the people working on the project, other than ourselves, were from out of state,” Kouwe said.
WKBN asked for the state’s records on the film projects, receiving page after page of blacked-out records after ten days.
WKBN reporter Amanda Smith went to Columbus for answers.
Smith: “Are the records here in this office public records?”
Ohio Development Services Agency Director David Goodman: “Yes, I believe they are. We are very transparent here.”
Smith: “I had asked to see that information, and what I got back, it’s not very transparent.”
Goodman: “Well, that’s a matter of opinion.”
Goodman pointed to a section of the Ohio Revised Code that says any financial data the agency holds is secret.
“We provide you with all the information that is allowed for us to provide,” Goodman said. “But I can tell you that we have unprecedented accounting procedures that we have never had in place before.”
The agency doles out billions in subsidies every year and does not have to reveal the financial details of those loans.
That doesn’t sit well with one valley lawmaker, who said he supports the tax credit, but doesn’t like the secrecy.
“These are things that don’t seem to be that secretive or should not be that secretive,” Ohio Senator Joe Schiavoni said. “Principal cast, who is your cast, who is your director. How much was spent on these?”
Goodman said that his agency is watching the checkbook closely, but understands concern about the tax credit.
“There has to be a better record of exactly how much money was spent, how many jobs were created,” Schiavoni said. “The economic benefit that that community derived, I think needs to be better explained.”
“I think you should be very concerned,” Goodman said. “I, as a taxpayer in the state of Ohio, am very concerned to make sure that we’re not wasting money and that we’re efficiently administering programs that we’re responsible for.”
Schiavoni said that promise might not be enough.
“I think we need to look back at this code section and specifically explain what kind of financial information should or shouldn’t be covered in this process and in this public records law,” Schiavoni said.
As for the Chardon Polka Band, the Reelz network canceled it after three episodes. Originally billed as a docu-drama, it got switched to a sit com at the last minute.
Kouwe summed up a critic’s review, saying they liked the band, but, “He didn’t like the television series because he thought it made us look fake.”