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The senior budget chairmen in the House and Senate say they support more grant money for North Carolina’s film industry, though some say a plan to spend $66 million a year on filmmaking might prove difficult in the budget year that begins on July 1.

“There’s not a lot of extra money available right now,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Wake County Republican who is a senior House budget chairman. “Certainly, in the end, any (film) proposal would need to fit into the other priorities, as well as the available funds.”

Companion bills filed in the House and Senate seek $66 million a year for the grant program, which was launched this year after lawmakers allowed the former film tax credit incentive program to expire at the end of last year.

Sen. Harry Brown, an Onslow County Republican and the Senate senior budget chairman, said he believes $40 million a year is a “reasonable number” for film grants in the coming budget. He added that he believes there’s support in the Senate for that, provided that it’s a grant program where costs can be managed through appropriations.

Brown also said the focus should be on projects that make long-term investments in North Carolina, such as TV series.

“I don’t think we want companies that want to come here, shoot something and then pack up and leave and then take dollars with them,” he said.

Sen. Michael Lee, a New Hanover County Republican and a sponsor of the Senate bill, said the $66 million figure was chosen based on spending on the film industry in recent years, combined with input from industry officials on what it would take to maintain the industry at its current level in the state.

He said he believed more than $80 million a year would be needed to grow the industry.

“We put in the number we thought would help us to maintain (the industry),” Lee said. “We’re hopeful we can keep it at that number.”

In his budget last week, Gov. Pat McCrory proposed spending $10 million a year on film grants.

But the Senate and House bills, which would spend many times that amount, have gained key sponsors.

Sen. Bill Rabon, a Brunswick County Republican and a co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is among the sponsors in that chamber. He has voiced support for films in the past, and once rented part of his property for the filming of a movie.

The House version, House Bill 171, had 22 sponsors as of Tuesday night, including Dollar; Rules Chairman Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican; and two House Finance Committee chairmen. The Senate version is Senate Bill 193.

Dollar said the influential sponsors shows that the House is “sympathetic with wanting to maintain our film and television production.”

By Patrick Gannon