Lights, camera, tax credits: Panel OKs $30M for TV, film shot in Jersey
New Jersey isn't getting enough starring roles, and it's costing the state money.
That's the pitch behind legislation advancing in Trenton that would create a new incentive program for nationally distributed film and television productions that work mostly out of New Jersey sets and studios.
According to Assemblyman Louis Greenwald (D-Camden), a primary sponsor of the measure, the industry's contribution to the New Jersey economy has decreased by about 50 percent since a tax credit program was discontinued by Gov. Chris Christie in 2011.
Greenwald's proposal provides a 25 percent tax credit for qualified projects. The credits would go to costs associated with "below the line" TV and film crew members, such as those involved with catering and wardrobe. The credits are not meant for actors, producers, writers or directors.
"This is not revenue that we're giving away," Greenwald said of the proposed tax credits while speaking before an Assembly committee Thursday. "This is revenue that we have lost because these productions have gone to other cities and other states."
Under the plan, up to $30 million in credits would be up for grabs per fiscal year. And at least one-third of credits annually must be issued to projects in counties that meet certain indicators of "insufficient economic activity." Currently, those counties include Atlantic, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem.
Greenwald said his proposal will allow the state to recapture an industry "that follows the money."
Casting director Diane Heery, a resident of Gloucester County, said she knows of four projects filming next year that are "set" in New Jersey but most likely won't shoot in the Garden State without tax credits.
"We can name loads of other projects that in the past wanted to come and shoot in New Jersey," Heery said. "But they'll come, they'll blow into town, and they'll shoot for one or two days...and then they'll go back to a tax credit state to shoot the rest of the film."
Assemblyman Anthony Bucco (R-Morris), who abstained from voting on the bill, said this move would in no way guarantee growth for the production industry in New Jersey. He's concerned companies will "chase" credits and not stay in the Garden State for the long haul.
"The temporary nature of these things is what's scary," Bucco said.
Referring to the measure as "corporate welfare," the group Americans for Prosperity said lawmakers should can the idea, which does not contain a sunset provision.
"Across the country, similar giveaways to the industry have been a flop, returning a fraction on investment," said AFP state director Erica Jedynak. "With the state facing enormous budget pressures and a $235 billion pension crisis, we cannot afford these kinds of risky ventures which take away funding from core functions of government."
Greenwald's bill was advanced Thursday by the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.