New York Governor Andrew Cuomo Vetoes TV Diversity Bill, Calls Incentive Proposal ‘Fatally Defective’

Casting Directors Fight for Diversity in
Wenjia Tang for Variety

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has vetoed a television diversity bill that has been strongly backed by the Writers Guild of America East and Directors Guild of America.

The legislation would have provided tax incentives and allocated up to $5 million toward the hiring of women and/or people of color to write or direct television in New York. State Senator Marisol Alcantara and Assembly Member Marcos Crespo sponsored the bill. Cuomo cited numerous issues that in his view made the legislation “fatally defective” in his memo accompanying the veto.

The legislation had the support of prominent filmmakers such as Tina Fey, Sarah Treem, David Simon, and Beau Willimon, who is also president of WGA East. It was also supported by the New York State AFL-CIO, IATSE Local 52, International Cinematographers Guild, Motion Picture Editors Guild, SAG-AFTRA, and Theatrical Teamsters Local 817.

WGA East Executive Director Lowell Peterson said, “We are stunned and disappointed by the Governor’s veto. New York has missed the chance to make history. Study after study, testimonial upon testimonial, have proven beyond doubt that the television industry has a major diversity problem. Women and people of color are vastly underrepresented, particularly as writers and directors, and they have been for many years.”

Directors Guild of America Eastern Executive Director Neil Dudich added, “We are deeply disappointed by Governor Cuomo’s decision to veto this landmark bill which would have encouraged television employers to move beyond the status quo to consider the full spectrum of New York’s talented directors and writers.”

Cuomo said his veto was based on the fact that there was no additional funding attached to the bill, and he noted that the state’s existing $420 million production tax incentive program is already “extremely oversubscribed.” He said the diversity bill did not adequately define how the credit would be calculated, who would be defined as a writer and a director and the criteria for claiming it. He also questioned whether the legislation would withstand a legal challenge.

What’s more, Cuomo said the diversity tax credit would target above the line talent while the state’s goal is to foster work for below-the-line workers who most need the opportunity to find steady work on sets in the Empire State. Cuomo said he would direct the Empire State Development Corp., the state agency that administers the production incentive program, to conduct a study to determine whether there is a “statistically significant disparity” between the number of women and persons of color who are ready to work as writers and directors and those who are actually employed in such capacities in film and TV.

(Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.)