N.Y. film tax credit is economic driver

Lawmakers eye extending program through 2015

NEW YORK -- The Empire State's $420 million production tax credits program, part of the state budget bill lawmakers are considering, has received a shot in the arm.

New York comptroller Thomas DiNapoli issued a report Tuesday that credits previous incentive programs with driving $7 billion into the state's economy from their 2004 launch through 2008. He also credits the program with contributing to the employment of as many as 63,000 people in 2008, double-digit-percentage job creation since the start of the incentives, as much as $5 billion in wages in 2008 and boosting state and local tax coffers.

"This report puts a number on the contribution of film and television productions to New York's economy," he said. "The film tax credit has helped this industry grow and employ tens of thousands of people; it's one of New York's key economic drivers."

Proponents of the credits are optimistic that the incentive program will pass, but given the tight economy and often chaotic state of affairs in New York government the past year, no one is predicting victory just yet.

The state budget based on the governor's proposal, which includes an extended and refined tax-incentive proposal through 2015, has an April 1 target date for passage.

The entertainment industry plays "an important role in the economy of New York state, but states across the nation and certain Canadian provinces are aggressively competing for film and television jobs by offering tax incentives," the report said. "These jobs pay well, and the industry has favorable impacts on other sectors of the economy, such as tourism."

Indeed, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently boasted that $710 million in movie and TV production spending would remain in his state this fiscal year thanks to incentives passed a year ago.

The report also cited a $6.98 billion boost to New York's economic activity since the production tax credits first were put in place and later boosted to 30% of below-the-line production costs, according to the governor's office. New York ranks second behind California in terms of jobs and number of projects filmed.

The number of motion picture, video production and postproduction jobs in New York rose by 14.2% from 2004-08 to 36,000. That boosted the Empire State's share of U.S. industry jobs from 14.8% to 16%, "reversing an earlier trend," DiNapoli said.

Empire State Development estimates that the industry supports more than 100,000 jobs in New York, the report noted. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about two-thirds of production positions in the state were located in New York City.

The New York industry also paid more than $3.3 billion in wages in 2008, up 33.8% compared with 2004. Wages in other film-related job categories that year totaled $1.7 billion.

"The industry's economic impact is multiplied through its support of jobs in other areas such as catering, equipment rentals and tourism," the report said.

The comptroller also said that New York City's big studio operators have been in expansion mode despite the recession because of the state's entertainment-industry prospects. Kaufman Astoria Studios is undergoing a $22 million expansion to add a soundstage, Steiner Studios is renovating to create additional space , and Silvercup Studios has announced a $1 billion expansion.

New York industry folks, from Kaufman Studios president Hal Rosenbluth and Silvercup Studios boss Stuart Suna to Local 52 IATSE president John Ford, welcomed the report. ∂
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