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Film Act, others to get hearing over incentives

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If you like more incentives — or rather, like reading about more incentives — then you're going to love this week.

On Monday, the state Senate Economic Growth Committee will consider several bills including the Garden State Film and Digital Media Jobs Act, which was initially featured by committee chairman and state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) last November in a package of other incentives, then later removed.

“I threw the kitchen sink in there,” Lesniak said, but now figures there “would be a better chance to get it signed by the governor if we focused on one issue at a time.”

Lesniak says it is his understanding that Gov. Chris Christie's administration is opposed to the measure, which would serve as an expansion of the state's tax credits for film and digital media productions. The governor vetoed a similar measure in 2011.

But that doesn't mean Lesniak understands why.

“I don't know what is driving the governor on this,” said Lesniak, who wonders if there is an outside interest at play that the administration is protecting.

“Either that, or he and his treasurer don't understand basic math,” Lesniak said.

Emailed requests for comment were not returned by Christie representatives.

As written, the bill calls for raising 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. The tax credit for eligible production expenses will also be upped from 20 percent to 22 percent if those purchases are made in businesses located within one of New Jersey's Urban Enterprise Zones.

When the original bill was first heard in November, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop testified before the committee that he felt it would benefit cities such as his own immensely because it would offer production companies a competitive alternative to nearby New York.

Fulop said last week that his support for the measure has not waned in recent months.

“Senator Lesniak's film credit legislation is the right thing to do and will contribute greatly to Jersey City and New Jersey's economic growth,” Fulop said. “In Jersey City we have a vibrant film community that is eager for this legislation to become law to enable additional film production and activity.”

Lesniak says that even though the currently offered tax credit in New York would still be higher than what this bill would propose, companies would take all added costs into consideration and realize that “it would still be less expensive to film in New Jersey.”

“We are giving up thousands of jobs and revenues to New York that this tax credit would bring,” Lesniak said.

One tweak recently made to the bill is that companies seeking the tax credits will have to form a public-private partnership with a state institution of higher education in order to provide training to students.

Lesniak says he hopes that added support for state colleges and universities will be enough to change the Christie administration's mind.

Also on the docket for Monday is the Lesniak-sponsored Economic Opportunity Act of 2014 Part 3, which, other than just being hard to say, is one of the cleanup bills to last year's landmark Economic Opportunity Act that many in the business community were hoping to see.

Under the bill, the minimum amount of transferable tax credits would be reduced to $25,000 and offers a full slate of clarifications and definition amendments to the current setup of the Grow New Jersey program and the Grow New Jersey Assistance Act.

Michael Egenton, senior vice president of government relations for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said that at first glance, the proposed cleanup bill offers much of what the business community is looking to see, but most likely won't be the last of its kind.

“I think there's some good stuff in there,” Egenton said.

E-mail to: andrewg@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @andrgeorge

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Andrew George

Andrew George

Andrew George covers the Statehouse from NJBIZ's Trenton bureau. Born and raised in N.J., Andrew has also spent time as a reporter in D.C., Texas and Pa. His email is andrewg@njbiz.com and he is @AndrGeorge on Twitter.

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