The Senate Economic Growth Committee voted unanimously Monday to advance the Garden State Film and Digital Media Jobs Act, a bill that would expand New Jersey's tax credit offerings for film and digital media productions.
The legislation calls for upping the annual program cap from $10 million to $50 million for film production tax credits and an increase from $5 million to $10 million in credits for digital media productions. Credit-eligible production expenses will also be increased from the current 20 percent threshold to 22 percent if purchases are made at businesses located within one of the state’s Urban Enterprise Zones.
Proponents, such as committee chairman and state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), said the measure will not only bring in new jobs and added revenues, but also work to keep New Jersey competitive with New York’s budding film industry brought on by similar programs there, which Lesniak noted are “more generous” than the proposed legislation.
The committee took supportive testimony from members of the film industry and education community, the latter of which was particularly interested in a recently added provision stipulating that companies seeking tax credits must enter into a public-private partnership with a state college or university in order to provide students with on-the-job training.
David Rodriguez, executive producer and vice president for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, testified in support of an amendment to the bill including provisions for game and award shows such as NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” which held a recent filming at the Newark venue.
Rodriguez said that the event’s broadcast began with an introduction referencing NJPAC and its Newark location. It wasn’t just great exposure for the city and the venue, but also a source of pride, he said.
“We are proud about being in New Jersey,” Rodriguez said.
Referencing his years of experience as a producer in New York, Rodriguez said that given the high costs of production across the river, New Jersey has an opportunity to become a player in the market if its tax incentives are attractive enough.
“Cost is the number one reason why location decisions are made,” Rodriguez said.
State Sen. Joe Kyrillos agreed that while the goal is to bring film and television productions to New Jersey if an economic benefit is to be gained, he remains concerned that offering more incentives will “give out more than we get.”
“Nobody wants that,” said Kyrillos, who added that in a “perfect world,” there would be no need to offer the credits at all.
Committee members agreed to a suggestion by Kyrillos that a provision be added stipulating that an economic net benefit test be commissioned and examined after several years.
Still, not everyone was on board with the legislation.
Daryn Iwicki, state director for Americans for Prosperity, testified in opposition to the proposed bill, claiming it was simply another form of “corporate welfare.” Iwicki argued that rather than offer subsidies to Hollywood, New Jersey would benefit more from a broad-based tax cut at the very top.
The bill will now head to the Senate budget committee.
Back in November, the measure also unanimously passed through the Economic Growth Committee as part of a larger, incentives package proposed by Lesniak. That package, known at the time as the Economic Opportunity Act of 2013 Part II, was later withdrawn and broken up into separate bills.
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