Two North Jersey Democrats went on location to Fort Lee — the one-time capital of the motion picture industry — to launch their latest appeal for renewal of a tax credit for production companies that film movies or television shows in New Jersey.
Sens. Loretta Weinberg and Paul Sarlo say the Film and Digital Media Tax Credit Program creates jobs and drives the economy. The Christie administration maintains that film industry tax credits produce disappointing economic results.
Republican Gov. Chris Christie suspended the credit after taking office, saving $10 million. He then vetoed Democrats' attempt to reinstate it at an increased level of $50 million. The Senate Democrats were pushing a nearly identical proposal Wednesday, asking again for Republican support.
The Democrats cite an Ernst & Young study they commissioned in 2008 that showed increasing the film tax credit from $10 million to $30 million would bring 4,350 new high-paying jobs in five years, generating $311 million in new wages and nearly $1 billion in economic output by production companies.
A 2010 study by the Tax Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, supports the administration's view.
"Movie production incentives (MPIs) such as film tax credits, cash rebates, grants and select tax exemptions fail to spur economic growth or raise tax revenue," the study showed.
Caren Franzini, CEO or the state Economic Development Authority, recommended in February that the program be abandoned after existing obligations were fulfilled.
"Given the factors cited by (Treasury Department economist Charles Steindel), EDA's staff review of national studies, and the questionable returns that the program provides to the taxpayers of New Jersey, the EDA does not support the continuation of the film tax credit program," she wrote.
Steindel reported that the state would likely lose money on film credits.
Christie vetoed a $420,000 credit to MTV's "Jersey Shore" reality show in May because he said the show hurts the state's image.
The Democrats made their latest appeal in Fort Lee, which was the nation's motion picture capital until losing out to California in the 1910s when filmmakers discovered they could work year-round in the more temperate climate.
The lawmakers said it's ironic that as the Directors Guild of America is recognizing the contributions of Alice Guy Blaché — the French-born U.S. filmmaking pioneer who will be honored posthumously in New York on Thursday — New Jersey's policies have driven film production out of state.
They point to two television shows, "Law & Order SVU", which cited the loss of the credit when leaving New Jersey for Manhattan, and Boardwalk Empire, which is based in Atlantic City but receiving a tax break for filming on Long Island.