NYS Exposed: State senator wants to eliminate film tax credit

December 15, 2017 12:13 AM

ROCHESTER—When state lawmakers head back to Albany in a few weeks, they’ll have to find a way to close an expected $4 billion budget deficit and some of our local elected leaders say they know where to start. Every year, nearly $450 million of your tax dollars go to Hollywood production companies who agree to shoot or edit part of their movie or TV show here in New York State but there are a handful of local elected officials who say they no longer think the investment is worth it or necessary.  

Scenes in some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters were shot in New York and the production companies behind them each claimed millions of dollars in tax breaks for it. TV shows get the tax breaks too. Just this year, Law and Order: SVU claimed $13.5 million and CBS’s The Good Wife claimed $15.5 million.

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“It's nice to have a movie shot in Buffalo or in Rochester or wherever we're talking about, but 90 percent of the benefit happens down in New York City,” says State Senator Rob Ortt of Lockport.

In fact, New York taxpayers subsidized The Tonight Show’s move to New York City a few years ago to the tune of $22M and continue to cover a comparable annual tax break.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office has long maintained that “The New York State film tax credit, launched in 2004, has incentivized billions of dollars in economic investment in the Empire State and continues to be the principal factor cited by productions when deciding to film and produce in New York.”

News10NBC has asked Governor Cuomo about it directly in the past and he always goes back to one thing, “Are we providing a subsidy? Yes. But we're providing a subsidy for them to create jobs, and this to me is very simple: It's about creating jobs," he said.

But until last year, critics say there wasn’t even a mechanism in place to track economic development or job growth. They also maintain that many of the thousands of jobs that the state says have been created are temporary. “There's very little evidence that Hollywood would just leave New York City, which is actually one of the most powerful places in the entire world to shoot,” says John Kaehny, the executive director of the good-government group, Reinvent Albany.

Senator Ortt believes the windfall for Hollywood has to stop especially considering the budget shortfall the state is facing,  he has written legislation to stop the film tax credit. “I believe we're committing money we don't have to an industry that doesn't need it…Is this the proper use of tax dollars and can we rightfully go back and tell teachers and police officers and mayors, you have to do with less but we're going to continue to give people like Harvey Weinstein and Hollywood moguls, millions, hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks, I don't think so,” he says.  

In the past few years a number of states including Kansas, Missouri, Wisconsin and Connecticut have eliminated or dramatically scaled back their film tax credits. “The data is about, anywhere between 1-3 percent return on investment so the question becomes at $450 million and facing a $4 billion deficit is that a return on investment that's worth keeping, I think we can do better and I think that money can be spent in a different way,” Ortt says.


Jennifer Lewke

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