Even After Amazon, Lawmakers Won’t Touch NY’s $6.5 Billion (And Counting) Film Subsidy Program

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Of all the strange moments in the wake of the collapse of Andrew Cuomo’s Amazon HQ2 deal, the strangest may have been when the governor used the uproar over giving $3 billion in tax breaks to Jeff Bezos’s tech giant to argue for the elimination of a subsidy that he himself has championed.

“The Senate’s position was very clear on Amazon, ‘We are against tax incentives to bring business to New York,’” Cuomo told reporters last month during the run-up to budget talks. To be “wholly consistent,” he continued, state legislators should say “‘that’s why we’re against the film tax credit’ because it’s the exact same point.”

The governor didn’t mean it, of course — something he made clear when he snuck a two-year extension to the film tax credit into the final state budget. Cuomo’s threat to eliminate the program — which currently provides $427 million a year to underwrite the costs of film and TV productions in New York, by far the state’s largest corporate subsidy program — was, State Senator Liz Krueger told the Albany Times Union last week, a “dare” to Democrats in the legislature to publicly oppose a credit that has strong support from labor unions, especially the Teamsters.

Cuomo wasn’t wrong, though, that many of the same Albany voices that helped kill the Amazon deal have lobbied to keep the film credits alive. Senator Michael Gianaris, whose appointment to the state Public Authorities Control Board as a vocal Amazon opponent was the straw that broke that deal’s back, has strongly backed film subsidies, saying, “Anyone who compares the Film Tax Credit to the secretive and failed Amazon deal does not understand economic development. It is not comparing apples to apples but apples to spaceships.”

And Krueger, who has criticized not just the governor’s proposed Amazon subsidies but other corporate tax kickbacks as well, told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer last month that the film credit “has a documented value year after year after year.” (Neither senator responded to repeated Gothamist requests for comment.)

The numbers on the film tax credit, though, show something different: a program that has cost state taxpayers $6.5 billion over the last 15 years, for an economic benefit that is somewhere between negligible and negative. That payments to the film industry to operate in New York have now been guaranteed at least through 2024 is a testament to how even in the post-Amazon era, some corporate subsidies remain more equal than others. See much more at Gothamist.

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