By John Cheves | Lexington Herald-Leader

Kentucky taxpayers helped pay for all of these movies and television shows in recent years under the state’s film incentives program. | Courtesy Lexington Herald-Leader

Kentucky committed itself in January to pay film companies $421 million in incentives, just ahead of the Feb. 1 deadline when Gov. Matt Bevin ordered the program suspended because he believes it costs the state too much money, the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet said Wednesday.

The January total is more than twice the $162 million the state had approved for film incentives from the program’s inception in 2009 through last December. The program reimburses companies for up to 35 percent of their approved costs when they film movies, television shows and commercials inside Kentucky.

If every one of the 212 film projects approved so far this year gets made, the resulting bill to taxpayers would be enough to wipe out almost all of the $500 million in new revenue the state expects to collect over the next two years from a tax overhaul plan lawmakers approved last week to help balance Kentucky’s budget.

Tourism Cabinet officials declined to be interviewed on the record this week about the film incentive program, which lawmakers decided to continue against the governor’s wishes in the budget bill they approved last week.

In a prepared statement, the cabinet said production companies are allowed two years after their credits are approved to start a project, so it’s unknown how much of that money Kentucky ultimately will have to pay. Not every project is likely to be completed, the cabinet said.

Even if Kentucky does end up paying the full $421 million in tax credits, that would mean $1.3 billion had been spent on film production inside the state to justify it, the statement said.

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