Legislation jeopardizes N.Y. tax breaks

Film, TV productions could take serious hit

The Gotham film community is up in arms over legislation backed by the Mayor’s Office of Film and Television that would shrink the city’s contribution to tax breaks for film productions and TV series.

The previous commitment — a refund of 5% of taxes on below-the-line expenses on top of the state’s 30% — would be cut to 4% by the legislation introduced into the state Senate (Daily Variety, May 28).

But it’s the bill’s other provisions that have local workers and their bosses worried. One proposal would expressly cut long-running TV series out of the credit program: “No credit shall be allowed with respect to a television series for which a credit has been allowed in five taxable years.” For shows like “Law and Order,” 2010 would be the last year of eligibility for the credit (which began in 2005).

The city would also set a hard maximum of $300,000 in tax refunds, so big-budget feature projects will be out of luck after the first $6 million in state taxes (television shows will be safer — the $300,000 cap is per feature for filmmakers and per episode for TV series producers).

Steiner Studios prexy Douglas C. Steiner believes the bill sends a potentially dangerous message to lawmakers. “We’ve always been within a few points of other locations that get budgeted, and the city makes out very well with the program,” Steiner said. The city’s proposed changes, Steiner said, send the message that big-budget movies and long-running shows are the least important facets of the New York industry, when many regard just those two types of projects as the Gotham film world’s lifeblood.

A rep for the for the Mayor’s Office of Film and Television declined to comment.

Gotham officials are between a rock and a hard place: On the one hand, the credit clearly brings biz to New York City, and the city’s cherry-on-top tax break addition gives an extra incentive to execs. On the other hand, the city’s ever-more-dire budget crisis necessitates some belt-tightening measures.

Steiner suggested a compromise: Lose the phase-out measures, keep the refund amount the same but delay payment a few years. “Studios work off certainty,” Steiner said. “The city should delay payment of credits on bigger-budget productions until 2012 to mirror the state program.”

People like Steiner and his fellow facility owners Hal Rosenbluth (of Kaufman/Astoria Studios) and the Suna brothers (of Silvercup) are also annoyed that they weren’t consulted. Local studio bigwigs have always been involved in the state-level negotiations over the credit program, and the unilateral way in which the bill was introduced is unlikely to make many friends.

“The city always takes a lot of credit, which has always irked Albany,” Steiner said. “This just adds insult to injury.”

Today begins the final two weeks of the legislative session, so whatever decisions are made, will be made soon.