The Ulster County Legislature last week overwhelmingly pledged support for a pair of bills designed to entice the film industry to do business in New York State by enhancing both the Empire State Film Production and Post Production credits.
In a vote held on Tuesday, April 18, the vast majority of legislators voted in favor of a memorializing resolution of support, with Democrats Joe Maloney and Phil Erner the lone holdouts.
Maloney (Saugerties) said the tax credits were effectively paying film productions to come to New York.
“If you don’t want to come here and film this beautiful area with all that we have unless we give you tax breaks, then go film somewhere else,” Maloney said. “That’s just how I feel. That’s pretty much how I feel about everything. If you don’t want to come here and pay your taxes, then go somewhere else.”
Recently, the film industry did go somewhere else. In 2020, New York State dropped its film production credits to 25 percent while other states like New Jersey, Oklahoma and California increased incentives, with at least ten productions moving from New York elsewhere as a result. In 2022, New Jersey saw the film and television industry spend a record $650 million within its borders.
Governor Kathy Hochul’s executive budget proposal already pushed to increase the cap on tax credits for the film industry from $420 million to $700 million, along with raising the incentive from 25 percent to 30 percent. Hochul’s proposal, which would run through 2034, also includes a five percent increase for TV series relocating to New York, with the stipulation that the production must have filmed at least six episodes in other states or countries and have a minimum per-episode budget of $1 million.
Elsewhere in Hochul’s plan, some above-the-line wage costs would be eligible for tax breaks, with the credit capped at $500,000 per individual, with the incentives limited to 40 percent of other qualified production expenses.
Finally, Hochul’s changes would speed up the payout schedule, with productions eligible to claim tax credits in the same year expenses are allocated instead of having to wait another year.
State Senate Bill S4832 and Assembly Bill A5003 would allow for a Hochul-proposed ten percent added credit for productions upstate to be used for goods and services as well as for below-the-line costs, and would also remove a $5 million cap on the upstate-specific credit.
While the state budget is overdue by more than three weeks, many Ulster County Legislators are bullish on ensuring the film tax credits move forward.
“This industry brings millions of dollars to our region, and the reason why it’s successful is because we give tax breaks,” said Peter Criswell (D-Kingston), on the resolution’s co-sponsors. “If we don’t do that, the filming will go to Canada, it will go to Georgia, it’ll go out of our region. We get so much residual income because of the filming that happens here.”
Minority Leader Ken Ronk (R-Shawangunk) recalled a curious production decision the last time the statewide film industry tax credit was discussed.
“There was a movie featuring Tivoli, and they actually built fake Tivoli in Canada rather than filming in real Tivoli across the river,” Ronk said. “(The film industry) brings millions of dollars in added revenue, which helps real people and real businesses in the Hudson Valley. Like Legislator Maloney, I wish that New York State would do something about the crippling taxes on business that cause these things to be going to Canada and Georgia and elsewhere. But until then, I’m happyto support continuing the film tax credit because it really does benefit real people here.”
Aaron Levine (D-Saugerties) said boosting the Empire State tax credits was crucial in ensuring New York was taken seriously as a production destination.
“The film industry is going to go where they feel they’re going to get the best economic deal, so in order for us to be competitive, we need to be providing incentives for people to come here,” Levine said. “Because the economic benefit to our region is real.”
Kathy Nolan (D-Denning, Hardenburgh, Olive, Shandaken) said that the film industry provided a wide range of jobs to local residents in a field that was in step with the region’s history.
“Ulster County is a county that has long celebrated the arts, and this is a modern art that is enlivening our community,” Nolan said.
Megan Sperry (D-Esopus, New Paltz) has been an assistant professor of Digital Media Production at SUNY New Paltz for nearly a decade, and she said the film industry’s success in New York means local students don’t necessarily have to leave for Hollywood to get a job in the film and TV industry.
“My students are graduating and they’re staying locally because there are jobs for them,” Sperry said. “They can stay here and pay taxes rather than moving to New York City, and they can stay here and they can rent apartments or, you know, eventually buy something and, I don’t know, spend money in some of the small businesses locally, maybe even go into a liquor store and buy some booze for a fun Saturday night.”