Taxpayers helped fund 'Tonight Show' broadcast in Minnesota

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota taxpayers helped foot the bill when Jimmy Fallon broadcast "The Tonight Show" from Minneapolis as part of last year's Super Bowl festivities.

The state paid $267,000 to the show through a rebate program, according to information Minnesota Public Radio News obtained via a public records request.

The money came from the Snowbate program, which is aimed at luring productions to the state and fostering local industry talent. The show's cut was more than half of what the Legislature allocated to the program in that fiscal year.

And even though talk shows are ineligible for the program, the show was reclassified as a "variety show" to fit the confines of state law.

The records MPR obtained show that members on the program's advisory committee expressed concern about giving taxpayer money to a big company like NBC, which airs Fallon's show.

In one email, Michael Tabor, a member of the program's advisory committee, wrote that the show didn't need an incentive to come to the city because NBC was shooting the Super Bowl in Minnesota anyway.

"To simply give away funds to a large company that would shoot here regardless, with almost no hope for return, isn't responsible on our part, especially when the statute is clear," Tabor said.

Melodie Bahan is executive director of the Minnesota Film and TV Board, a nonprofit that needs state signoff to issue rebate checks.

"Once we determined it was a variety show and not a talk show, then, no, we would have had no reason to reject the application," Bahan said. "Anytime that a show comes here that's going to hire more than 100 people — local people — and pay them really good wages, that's a victory."

Bahan urged the executive committee of her board to approve the subsidy despite acknowledging the advisory committee was leaning toward rejecting to fund the show.

"I didn't think that this was a controversial decision," Bahan said. "I am very confident in the process that we followed and that we did everything correctly. And the program worked the way the program is designed to work."

She said she lobbied the Legislature — without success — to turn it into a tax credit rather than a straight rebate, because credits go further in attracting bigger projects, based on the experience of other states.

Now, new program guidelines are being crafted to emphasize economic impact, level of local hiring and wages paid and how recognizable Minnesota is in the films and shows shot in the state. Final guidelines could be released before summer is over. Until then, applications for Snowbate awards are on hold.

___

Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org

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