ALBANY -- The two Sex and the City movies received a combined $13.6 million in film-tax credits from New York state, but one of its stars, Cynthia Nixon, wants to change the program if she is elected governor.
Nixon, a Democratic candidate for governor, said Tuesday that while the TV and film industry is important to New York, the $420 million film-tax program needs an overhaul and a better return on investment.
She suggested, in fact, that if New York is to dole out such heavy incentives to the industry, it should also get a piece of the profits.
"As governor, my first job will be creating jobs, and I appreciate firsthand how important jobs in the film and TV industry are to New York," Nixon, who is running a Democratic primary against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said in a statement to the USA Today Network's Albany Bureau.
"That's why we’ve got to improve the Film Production Tax Credit in a smart way that works for all working families, so that we're protecting jobs of the New York-based crew instead of the lion's share of tax credits going to the big movie companies in Los Angeles.”
Nixon has railed against New York's economic-development incentives to businesses under Cuomo, and the film-tax credit is the state's largest.
So Nixon's stance on the issue is of particular note because she is an actress whose films benefitted from the program.
For Sex and the City 2, the state provided an $11 million tax break, according to Empire State Development.
Nixon didn't personally benefit, though: The credit in New York cannot go to pay for the salaries of actors, producers and directors.
Nixon's statement noted that New York is "now giving away $420 million a year to these corporations, funding up to 40% of the budget for some productions." She added, "For that kind of money, we should be getting a share of the profits.
"We could also do more to use the program to support productions directed or written by women and people of color, a bill that Governor Cuomo vetoed."
Cuomo has hailed the film-tax program, saying it has led New York to become one of the leaders in the industry. It is a $19 billion a year industry in New York with 104,000 hires expected this year.
He did veto a measure last December that would have added up to $5 million toward incentives to hire women and minorities to write or direct programs.
He said the bill, approved by the Legislature, didn't include a way to pay for it and that the program was already oversubscribed.
"New York’s Film Tax Credit Program generates record-breaking economic impact, supports local businesses and communities and creates hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs across the Empire State each year," Amy Varghese, spokeswoman for Empire State Development, which manages the program, said in a statement.
"New York is every filmmaker's dream location and the state's incentive program makes these productions — and their economic benefits — possible."
Parsing the debate
Nixon has commented several times since her announcement for governor March 19about her concerns with the film-tax program.
"I don’t think there’s any real truth that that enormous expenditure of money is making a significant enough different in production to justify it," she told the Buffalo News.
Soon after, her spokeswoman Rebecca Katz told the New York Post that “Cynthia is opposed to enormous tax giveaways to large corporations with no strings attached."
Some Republican state lawmakers have called on New York to do away with the film-tax program, saying it hasn't produced the results to justify the expense and is mainly focused in New York City.
A report by the USA TODAY Network's Albany Bureau last November found 29 states gave out $6 billion in incentives for more than 5,000 projects over the past five years.
The top spenders were Louisiana at $1.3 billion and New York at $1.2 billion.
The review found that Cuomo, who is seeking a third term in November and is a potential 2020 presidential candidate, received about $1.3 million from film interests since taking office.
Nixon's criticism of the program has drawn rebukes from private-sector unions, whose workers benefit from the increase in productions in New York.
Teamster Local 817 said in a statement Thursday that the industry is an "economic boon for the state" and in highly mobile sector, the jobs would leave without the tax breaks.
"I’m baffled by Cynthia Nixon’s remark that New York state’s tax credits for film and TV ‘doesn’t merit the investment’, while admitting ‘she’s looking into them,'" the union's president Tom O’Donnell said in a statement.
"I would say a program that generates hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in wages merits the investment."