New Jersey Advances Production Tax Credit
Jessica Kourkounis/Getty

After hearing from film and television honchos as well as university administrators, members of New Jersey’s Senate Economic Growth Committee advanced a bill that could increase the state’s movie, TV and digital media production tax credit incentives.

The committee chaired by state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) heard from advocates of bill S1952, also known as the “Garden State Film and Digital Media Jobs Act,” on Monday in Trenton.

The bill calls for increasing New Jersey’s tax credit offering, which is currently capped at $10 million per year.

Proponents included Start Media CEO Michael Maher, New Jersey Performing Arts Center exec producer David D. Rodriguez and Tax Credits’ Christine Peluso as well as professors from Rutgers University, Montclair State University and New Jersey’s Science and Technology University.

In 2005, a New Jersey tax incentive program was created to boost film and TV production throughout the state. The program gave a 20% tax credit, but in 2010 Governor Chris Christie suspended the program. In 2011 Christie pulled the plug on a tax credit for MTV’s “Jersey Shore,” calling it “wasteful spending.” 495 Productions, the reality show’s production house, was to receive a $420,000 tax break for filming in the state as part of an economic development initiative.

While “Jersey Shore” didn’t necessarily place the state in the best light, Peluso says that skein’s popularity increased parking meter collection in (series local) Seaside Heights, NJ from $807,000 in 2007 to $1.3 million in 2010. (Show began airing in late 2009.) Besides boosting meter collection, Peluso also noted that the reality show’s crew and fans infused money into the local economy with the purchase of hotel rooms, car rentals, catering, hardware, dry cleaning, rental fees, permit fees and other expenses.

The current incentive program is due to sunset in June 2015. While it hasn’t technically disappeared, all funds have already been allocated to projects pending final award.

In addition to added revenue and more jobs for current New Jersey below-the-line workers, Rodriguez testified about the priceless exposure.

NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” which was recently filmed in the state, began each program with an introduction referencing NJPAC and its Newark location.

“It wasn’t just great exposure for the city and the venue, but also a source of pride,” Rodriguez said.

Lesniak read a letter written by Belafonte Arts & Media co-founder/prexy David Belafonte encouraging state lawmakers to pass the amended bill.

“We are set to commence principle photography on August 1, 2014 in New Jersey on (Whoopi Goldberg starrer) “The Christmas Pearl,” Belafonte wrote. “If it weren’t for New Jersey’s film incentive program currently in place we would be producing the film in any one of a number of other states that provide the appropriate and necessary incentives for companies such as ours.”

Maher pointed out that while neighboring New York and Connecticut give 30% tax breaks, at 20% New Jersey is still a strong competitor if lawmakers pass bill S1952.

“According to our studies, the demand for stage facilities, production services and talent in the New York and New Jersey area is growing,” Maher said. “New Jersey offers the same quality of labor, the same access to talent and the same proximity to the decision makers in the media industries as New York City…There is no insurmountable reason the New Jersey side of the Hudson River cannot be competitive with Brooklyn and Queens in a world in which New Jersey provides competitive film and television economic incentives.”

But Daryn Iwicki, state director for Americans for Prosperity argued that giving tax breaks to the “one percent’ will not trickle down to every one else.

“Does anyone on this panel truly believe that Whoopi Goldberg needs a tax incentive to come here to film in the state of New Jersey?” Iwicki asked.

Lesniak answered: “You asked the question so let me answer it. People who are working (below the line) need it. (This is about) real jobs for real people.”

Peluso concurred.

“You are not going to have a giant portion of your credit going to actors and actresses,” Peluso said.  “It will be going to below-the-line workers. The proximity to New York, Connecticut and
Philadelphia make New Jersey the perfect place for production.”

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