ALBANY - Saturday Night Live raked in $42.7 million from New York taxpayers in recent years — all for filming in the state that it has proudly called home for 43 years, state records show.
The NBC show that proclaims "Live from New York" recently got its largest film-tax breaks since New York started making the incentives public.
The show received nearly $16 million in reimbursements for the 41st season that was broadcast two years ago.
That's on top of $27 million Saturday Night Live received for seasons 39 and 40, including a $1 million tax credit for its 40th anniversary special that aired in 2015, according to state records maintained by the USA TODAY revi Network's Albany Bureau.
At $420 million a year, New York offers the largest film-tax credit program in the nation, doling out $1.2 billion in tax breaks to shows and films over the past five years,a review by the Albany Bureau found last year.
Critics of the program said the tax breaks for Saturday Night Live highlight what is wrong with the incentives: New York had already lured many shows and films without the breaks.
"I think the laugh is on us," said Ron Deutsch, president of the Fiscal Policy Institute, a liberal think tank in Albany.
"Saturday Night Live is entering its 43rd season, and the likelihood of Saturday Night Live leaving for another state is probably minimal at best."
Promoting the program
But state officials have touted the success of the tax credit program, saying it has led to an influx of shows and movies filming not only in New York City but increasingly across the state, particularly in the Hudson Valley.
Empire State Development, which administers the program, said 229 film and television projects applied for credit last year, estimating it led to 228,547 hires and $3.9 billion in economic spending.
Supporters have argued that without the credit, productions would move to other states.
“We’ve established a competitive global marketplace for film and television production and post-production in New York State, which results in billions of dollars in spending and the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs,” Howard Zemsky, the agency's president, said in a statement in January to congratulate nine films shot in New York that were nominated for Oscars.
NBC declined comment about the tax breaks for Saturday Night Live.
New York's tax-credit programs are the principal factor cited by productions when deciding to film and produce in New York, said Amy Varghese, a spokeswoman for Empire State Development.
She cited the economic activity and jobs created by Saturday Night Live being in New York.
"These incentives ensure that New York continues to be highly competitive both nationally and globally in our efforts to attract and maintain productions — and their record-breaking economic benefits," Varghese said in a statement.
"Since 2015, Saturday Night Live has generated more than $237 million (in spending) in New York and more than 8,000 hires.”
On the campaign trail
The film-tax credit has also prompted debate during the current race for governor.
Cynthia Nixon, the Sex and the City star challenging Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a primary, has questioned public incentives for private projects, including for films and shows — even though the series she co-starred in benefited from the breaks.
The latest filing made public Monday showed the movie The Only Living Boy in New York — in which Nixon also was a co-star — received $2.9 million in tax breaks.
New York's film tax credit program, which started in 2004 and has been expanded, does not provide reimbursements for the salaries of the actors, only up to 30 percent in production and post-production costs. In upstate, the credits can be as high as a 40 percent reimbursement.
Nixon has called for greater oversight of the program, and she has knocked Cuomo for the campaign contributions he has received from the industry.
The Albany Bureau's review last fall found that Cuomo received at least $1.3 million in donations from film interests since taking office in 2011.
"Having spent four decades in the film industry, Cynthia knows that the film and tax credit is vital to NY production and has created real jobs and led to important growth in New York's film and TV industry," her spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said in a statement.
"She also knows that, like all tax credits, there needs to be real oversight to ensure that these government subsidies are actually creating below the line, well-paying jobs, not just lining the pockets of wealthy executives."
Cuomo allies knocked Nixon's stance.
"While her paycheck might not suffer without this tax credit, the livelihoods of our members would," John Ford, president of Motion Picture Studio Mechanics Local 52, IATSE, said in a statement.
'King of all Media' weighs in
Radio host Howard Stern also praised Cuomo for the tax breaks, saying they have lured The Tonight Show back to New York, as well as other programs, which has been good for the city's tourism and economy.
"Yes, we give them a tax break, but what it does — it brings people in," Stern said on his show Monday.
"They spend money in restaurants, and they spend money on various things. You know, Disney has to build the attractions in order for you to come. This is actually a savings to our city. This way they don’t leave."
In the first quarter of this year, 36 film projects spent $562 million in New York and received $121 in tax breaks, Empire State Development said.
Saturday Night Live received the most in the quarter, followed by $14.4 million for HBO's The Deuce and $12.7 million for NBC's Shades of Blue.