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New York's Film Tax Credit in the 2010 Legislature

By Bennett Liebman

In the course of final passage of the State budget, the State legislature, followed by gubernatorial approval, passed a significant extension and expansion of New York's existing film tax credit. The 30% film production tax credit was extended for five additional years, and it was funded at the rate of $420 million per year for this five year period.(1)

Additionally, the legislature added a standalone credit for productions that do their post production in New York State. Eligible productions that complete 75 percent of their post production in New York can now apply for a 10% credit for the post production work done in NY.(2)

The legislation allocates additional $420 million in each of 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 and defines this as an "additional pool" for those years. Previously, the legislature had allocated $85 million in 2010, $90 million in 2011 and 2012, and $110 million in 2013 for the film credit.(3) In 2009, the legislature allocated an additional $350 million for the film credit for that year (4) on top of $75 million that had been previously allocated.(5)

New York State is among numerous states that have provided tax incentives to the film and TV industries. According to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, 44 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico offered significant movie production incentives in 2009, up from five states in 2002.(6) 28 of these states offered tax credits. In the Unites States, the film tax credit concept started in Louisiana which in 1992 passed legislation for tax credits for investment losses for films which contained substantial Louisiana content.(7) The initial Louisiana experiment did not spur much added economic activity. Minnesota similarly enacted a film credit in 1997, (8) but by 2002, there were only four states in the nation that had film incentives. New Mexico (9) and Louisiana,(10) however, changed the entire ballgame in 2002 by expanding the monetary value of the film tax credits significantly. The 2002 Louisiana legislation included "a series of incentives designed to revitalize the state's movie business, which had declined in part because of a nationwide migration to Canada, where producers enjoy generous incentives and a favorable currency exchange rate."(11)

New York State has one of the larger film production industries in the United States. "Sources generally conclude that the states of California, New York, and New Mexico receive the most economic impact (in that order.)"(12) The Motion Picture Association in 2006 estimated a $1.5 billion economic effect for the film industry in New York.(13) The New York Governor's Office for Motion Picture and Television Development states that in 2009 the film production credit led to $1.88 billion in direct production spending.(14)

New York started its film production credit in 2004 with the aggregate amount of annual tax credits capped at $25 million (15) It was expanded in 2006 to increase the cap to $60 million.(16) It was further expanded in 2008 and 2009 to increase the cap, and with the 2010 legislation, it has reached its highest levels of State support.

The New York 30% credit applies only to below the line film expenses. According to the Governor's Office for Motion Picture and Television Development, below the line film expenses "mean hard costs of production including the salaries of crew and extras as well as equipment and facility rental, lab costs, construction materials, props, wardrobe, locations, editing and catering, etc. Typically, BTL represents 65 percent of the average budget."(17) Thus, the 30% credit would typically provide a benefit that approximates "18 percent of a project's total budget."(18)

Besides the additional $2.1 billion in funding, the 2010 legislation placed some qualifications on claiming the credit. The legislation specifies a time frame which will determine the tax year for which the credit can be claimed. It requires that at least 10% of the principal shooting days be spent at a qualified New York film production facility. This 10% requirement is waived for "qualified independent film production companies" which are smaller entities defined as entities "principally engaged in the production of a qualified film with a maximum budget of fifteen million dollars, and (ii) controls the qualified film during production, and (iii) either is not a publicly traded entity, or no more than five percent of the beneficial ownership of which is owned, directly or indirectly, by a publicly traded entity".(19)

The legislation requires that the completed DVD release of the production either contain an end credit acknowledging New York State support of the production or contain a New York promotional video approved by the governor's office of motion picture and television development. The production must also "certify that it will purchase taxable tangible property and services, defined as qualified production costs" only from companies registered to collect sales tax in New York.(20)

Postproduction costs of a qualified production will only be eligible for the general film credit where "the post production costs paid or incurred that is attributable to the use of tangible property or the performance of services in New York in the production of such qualified film equals or exceeds seventy-five percent of the total post production costs spent within and without New York in the production of such qualified film."(21)

The 2010 legislation also provided a separate credit that would cover 10% of work at a post production facility. This would cover works not eligible for the general 30% film production tax credit. It would cover works only where the costs at the New York post production facility met or exceeded "seventy-five percent of the total post production costs paid or incurred in the post production of the qualified film at any post production facility."(22)

$7 million is allocated annually for the post production tax credit. A separate chapter amendment makes clear that this $7 million allotment is part of and not in addition to the overall $420 million annual allocation.(23) The chapter amendment provides "that the post production tax credit will be allocated $7 million annually from the $420 million pool of available tax credits. Unallocated post-production tax credits may be made available for the Empire film production credit upon the exhaustion of the aggregate amount of film credits."(24)

In an especially tight budget year, there was significant legislative support for the film credit in New York. Governor Paterson's initial budget proposed the $2.1 billion in additional funds for the credit, and the only action taken by the legislature to in any way alter this funding was to use $35 million of the $2.1 billion allocation to establish the post production credit.

There was little substantive discussion given to curtailing or suspending the film credit. There were few questions raised about the overall merit of the program. While the Governor's Office for Motion Picture and Television Development maintains that the funding is necessary to make New York competitive with states such as Connecticut Michigan and Massachusetts that have more generous film credits, (25) some studies have questioned the overall value of the film credit.

The Tax Foundation has stated, "While broad-based tax competition often benefits consumers and spurs economic growth and development, industry-specific tax competition transfers wealth from the many to the few. Movie production incentives are costly and fail to live up to their promises."(26)

"A 2005 study from the Louisiana Legislative Fiscal Office found that the state could expect to recoup 16 percent to 18 percent of the tax revenue it spends on the film incentive program. This means Louisiana--often held up as the standard-bearer for successful film incentive programs--loses about 83 cents for every dollar it spends on movie production incentives."(27) A Pennsylvania legislative study found some limited justification for its film credit. The report stated, "While there is a net fiscal loss when comparing the net present cost of the Film Tax Credit program ($58.2 million) to the taxes generated by productions directly receiving tax credits ($17.9 million), there is a net fiscal gain to the Commonwealth of $4.5 million when considering all of the revenues generated by the entire industry. While some of this activity would occur without the benefit of the FTC, a significant proportion of this activity would be at risk without such a tax credit program."(28)

This year, Iowa, Kansas, and New Jersey terminated or temporarily suspended their film tax credit program, the first states in the nation to do so.(29) The Iowa suspension was largely due to corruption found in the film office,(30) and the New Jersey suspension, which was based on budgetary concerns, has been harshly criticized by officials in Bergen County which has often been the site of Law& Order SVU episodes.(31)

Nonetheless, a serious review of the New York film credit will not likely occur in 2010.

1Ch. 57, Part Q, L. 2010.
2Id. See Tax Law §§31, 210.41,and 606.(qq).
3 Ch. 57, L. 2008.
4 Ch. 57, L. 2009.
5See note 3 supra.
6 Tax Foundation, "Study: Film Tax Credits, Production Incentives Fail to Spur Economic Growth," January 14, 2010, http://taxfoundation.org/research/show/25707.html.
7 Louisiana Act 894 (H.B. 252) (1992).
8 Tax Foundation, "Movie Production Incentives: Blockbuster Support for Lackluster Policy," January 2010; The Hollywood Reporter ,June 25, 1997.
9 2002 N.M. ALS 36.
10 2002 La. ACT 6.
112002 La. ACT 6; La. R.S. 47:6007; Stewart Yerton, "Counting on Film Credits," New Orleans Times Picayune, May 11, 2003.
12 Michal H. Salima, "State Film Tax Incentives and the Related Potpourri of Federal Income Tax and Tax Accounting Considerations," 62 The Tax Lawyer 1085 Summer, 2009.
13Motion Picture Association of America, "The Economic Impact of the Motion Picture and Television Production Industry in the United States," 13-14 (2006), http://www.mpaa.org/press_releases/mpa%20us%20economic%20impact%20report_final.pdf.
14 Report on the Empire State Film Production Tax Credit, August 2010, http://www.tax.state.ny.us/pdf/stats/policy_special/film_production_credit/report_on_the_empire_state_film_production_credit_august_2010.pdf .
15Ch. 60, L. 2004.
16Ch. 62, L. 2006.
17 See note 14 supra at p. 24.
18 Id. Besides the state film tax credit, new York City provides a 5% credit applied to the applicant's New York City tax liability. See Tax Law, §1201-a.(b).
19 Tax Law, §24.(b)(7).
20Tax Law §24.(a)(4).
21 Tax Law §24.(b)(1).
22 Tax Law §31.
23 Ch. 312, L. 2010.
24 New York State Assembly Memorandum in Support of Legislation, A. 11678.
25 See note 14 supra at 24.
26See note 8 at 16. See also Mark Sanchez, "Tax Foundation Report Hits Film Incentives by States," West Michigan Business Review, January 14, 2010 http://www.mlive.com/business/west-michigan/index.ssf/2010/01/tax_foundation_report_hits_fil.html.
27Tax Foundation Commentary, "Michigan Should Stop Red-Carpet Tax Treatment of Film Industry," May 4, 2010 http://www.taxfoundation.org/research/show/26275.html.
28 Pennsylvania's Film Production Tax Credit and Industry Analysis, Legislative Budget and Finance Committee May 2009, Pg. 5 http://lbfc.legis.state.pa.us/reports/2009/35.PDF.
29 Tax Foundation, "A Review of 2010's Changes in State Tax Policy, "August 23, 2010. http://www.taxfoundation.org/research/show/26645.html.
30Associated Press, "Iowa AG Files Charges over Film Tax Credits," February 8, 2010 http://wcco.com/local/film.tax.credits.2.1480422.html. Corruption issues have also arisen in Louisiana. See "Film Tax-Credit Scam That Ensnared Dozens With Ties To New Orleans Saints Leads to Guilty Plea," New Orleans Times Picayune, May 13, 2010, http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2010/05/film_tax-credit_scam_that_ensn.html; "Editorial: Lights, Camera, Corruption," New Orleans Times Picayune, August 20, 2007, http://www.nola.com/news/t-p/editorials/index.ssf?/base/news-4/1187589162244190.xml&coll=1.
31"Freeholders Call for Restoration of Tax Credit for NJ Filmmakers," South Bergenite, August 26, 2010, http://www.northjersey.com/arts_entertainment/101535368_Locals_could_lose_big_on_area_filming_loss.html; "Law & Order: SVU Moves Production," Philadelphia Business Journal, July 30, 2010, HTTP://WWW.BIZJOURNALS.COM/PHILADELPHIA/BLOGS/STIMULUS_TRACKER/2010/07/LAW_ORDER_SVU_MOVES_PRODUCTION.HTML.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 1, 2010 11:30 AM.

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