Getting the film crews back to NJ
Gov. to decide future of tax credit that benefited Hudson County
by E. Assata Wright
Reporter staff writer
Feb 20, 2011 | 11705 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
ROLL ’EM – The cast of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” which typically filmed at a studio in North Bergen, shot on location in Secaucus last summer on Meadowlands Parkway.
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Gov. Christopher Christie will this month decide the fate of a tax credit program for motion picture and television productions that film in New Jersey. Until the governor suspended this tax credit last year, several Hudson County-based productions, including “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” had benefited from the tax credit, which supporters say led to job creation and increased business for local vendors.

The state legislature last month approved the restoration and expansion of the tax credit program. Under bills passed by both the state Senate and Assembly, the program would offer 20 percent tax credits to television and film productions that shoot in New Jersey and meet set standards for hiring and local spending. The legislation would offer 22 percent tax credits for productions that film in the state’s Urban Enterprise Zones.

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According to the MPAA, more than 250 people worked on the set of “Mercy.”

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Last year Christie suspended the credit for Fiscal Year 2011 to close an $11 million budget gap and to take time to evaluate the merits of the program.

The governor has not indicated whether he’ll sign the new legislation, but he has in the past been skeptical that film tax credits create jobs and boost local economies.

Shows left for NY

The tax credit had been instrumental in attracting several TV productions to Hudson County, including the NBC hospital drama “Mercy,” which was shot in Secaucus, and NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” which filmed throughout the county but was primarily shot in a studio in North Bergen.

After the film and television tax credit was suspended, both productions immediately fled to New York, which still offers its own tax incentive program.

New York is among 40 states and Washington, D.C. that offer economic perks to film productions that shoot in their jurisdictions, according to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Supporters of the credits argue that they produce jobs and support local businesses in the areas where filming takes place.

“The tax credit program sustains over 70,000 jobs in New York State. I think the New Jersey legislature recognizes the value of the credit,” said Vans Stevenson, MPAA’s senior vice president for State Government Affairs, last week. “This legislation would put New Jersey back in the mix for consideration.”

According to the MPAA, roughly 7,000 jobs were created in New Jersey through film productions in 2008, while state vendors and contractors reaped about $507 million in economic stimulus thanks to the film industry that same year.

Detractors of New Jersey’s film credits question these numbers and believe the state gave away more in credits than it got back in jobs and local spending.

After winning election, Gov. Christie’s own transition team recommended that the state’s film tax credit be extended and enhanced. Christie rejected these recommendations and last year asked State Treasurer Andrew Eristoff to review the economic impact of the program himself.

Eristoff has yet to release the outcome of his review.

Benefit for Hudson County?

Although television and film producers have long held an attraction for New Jersey, several high-profile shows in recent years have turned the spotlight on Hudson County. “Going as far back as the ’70s, we’ve had a lot of film projects come to New Jersey,” Steven Gorelick, executive director of the New Jersey Television and Motion Picture Commission, told the Reporter last summer. In the interview, conducted just weeks before the tax credit was suspended, he ironically credited the state’s tax credit program with helping attract production companies west of the Hudson River.

Until last July NBC had rented a 52,100-square-foot warehouse in North Bergen to shoot its popular cop drama “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”

Tom Fontana, producer of the HBO prison drama “Oz,” decided to create his fictional Oswald State Correctional Facility in an old warehouse is Bayonne. Much of the series, which ran from 1997 until 2003, was filmed around the now defunct Military Ocean Terminal base.

More recently, NBC producer Jim Bigwood selected the warehouse at 10 Enterprise Ave. in Secaucus to film his hospital drama “Mercy.” The show occasionally also filmed inside a private residence in Weehawken.

Within days of the tax credit’s suspension last year, NBC announced that both “Law & Order: SVU” and “Mercy” would relocate to New York. Although the network ultimately canceled the latter show, an attorney for NBC/Universal told state lawmakers last year the network could have still used its Secaucus studio for other film projects had the credit remained.

According to the MPAA, more than 250 people worked on the “Mercy” set, which is now rented to a dry goods company.

Approximately 200 people had worked at the “Law & Order” soundstage in North Bergen.

The clock’s ticking

Those in the film and television industry and other supporters of the tax credit are anxious.

When lawmakers passed legislation to restore and expand the film tax credit last month, Christie had 45 days to sign it into law, a timeline that will run out on Feb. 24.

The governor is unlikely to sign the legislation without first seeing Eristoff’s report, but that has yet to be released. In the meantime, Christie is expected to present his FY 2012 budget on Feb. 22.

Supporters of the film tax credit fear time may be running out for the credit to be restored in next year’s budget.

One lobbyist for the film industry said last week that many in the industry expect Gov. Christie to veto the tax credit legislation. Industry lobbyists are now focusing their energies, she said, on securing enough votes to override the governor’s veto and get the credit restored for FY 2012, which begins July 1, 2011.

E-mail E. Assata Wright at awright@hudsonreporter.com.

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