News & Politics

“House of Cards” Could Leave Maryland if State Doesn’t Give Enough Tax Credits

The show’s producers tell state officials to pay up or they might film it somewhere else.

Whatever Francis wants, Francis gets. Photograph by Nathaniel Bell for Netflix.

On House of Cards, scheming politicians bribe, blackmail, and ransom their adversaries into doing their bidding. Turns out the producers of the popular Netflix series aren’t much different.

Media Rights Capital, the production company behind House of Cards, recently sent letters to Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch saying that if the state doesn’t re-up its film incentive program that gives tax credits to House of Cards and other productions for their business in Maryland, the show might pick up stakes and shoot its third season elsewhere, the Washington Post reports.

“In the event sufficient incentives do not become available, we will have to break down our stage, sets, and offices and set up in another state,” writes Charlie Goldstein, a senior vice president at Media Rights Capital.

House of Cards’s producers got about $11 million back in tax credits for the first season and $15 million for the second season, which premiered last week, according to figures from the Maryland Film Office. In return for the show basing itself in Baltimore and nearby Harford County, state officials say Maryland has enjoyed $250 million in economic activity.

Media Rights Capital wants a similar amount for the third season, but many state officials do not want to pony up that much. Maryland legislators are currently debating whether to increase the state’s tax credit program to a level that would satisfy Goldstein and his fellow producers, or let it revert to the $7.5 million annual cap at which it sat before House of Cards started up. (It was briefly increased to $25 million to accommodate the first two years of House of Cards, with enough left over to reimburse the producers of other shows, like HBO’s Veep, which got $8.9 million over its first two years.) There are currently bills in the Maryland legislature that would raise the cap to $11 million or $18.5 million.

And with the future of the incentive program uncertain, House of Cards is starting to respond by delaying the production of its third season, which was supposed to begin in spring but has been kicked back to June. In his letter, Goldstein says the production delay is to “ensure there has been a positive outcome of the legislation.”

It also gives the show time to look for another shooting location in case the vote doesn’t go its way. Virginia legislators are considering raising their state’s cap on tax credits for production companies to $12.5 million, and other states have no limits at all. One place that will not be in the running in the event House of Cards ditches Maryland the way Frank Underwood bumps off his rivals: DC, the city in which the show takes place but which in real life has no tax-credit program.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.