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N.Y. TV/film industry seeks tax break amid recession
By Michelle Nichols
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York's television and film industry pushed on Monday for a 30 percent production tax credit to be made permanent amid concerns the program could be sacrificed as the state grapples with a $14 billion deficit.
New York state implemented a 10 percent tax credit in 2004 and raised it to 30 percent last year, but $460 million worth of funding, which had been expected to last until 2013, has been exhausted in less than a year and ran out last month.
As a result, Warner Bros. Television has moved production of its hit science-fiction series "Fringe" to Vancouver and no pilot shows are due to be filmed in New York this year, compared with 19 pilots shot in the city last year.
"The program more than pays for itself," Mary Rae Thewlis, a member of the Directors Guild of America, told a news conference on the set of ABC's hit "Life on Mars" TV series.
"These incentives are not charity. They generate revenue at a time when the government is in desperate need of money," said Thewlis, adding that 40 U.S. states now offered production tax credits of 5 percent to 30 percent.
An Ernst and Young report forecast that between 2005 and 2010 television and film productions and related activities were expected to generate about $2.7 billion in state and city tax revenues, compared with an estimated $690 million in state and city credits claimed during the same period.
The industry also created 7,031 direct jobs and 12,481 indirect jobs in 2007, the report showed.
New York City offers a separate 5 percent production tax credit on top of the 30 percent state credit.
"We are committed to this vital industry, and are working to ensure that New York remains in front of the cameras," said Marisa Lago, president and chief executive of Empire State Development President, the state agency that runs the program.
"With our industry partners, we are working on crafting a reformed tax credit proposal that will keep this vibrant and job producing industry thriving in New York, while at the same time recognizing the State's budget realities," she said.
Richard Masur, an actor and board member and past president of the Screen Actors Guild, said that if it weren't for the tax credit "Life on Mars" would not be shot in New York.
"There is no question that we generate more income to the state than the cost of this program," he told the news conference. "It's very appropriate that we're on the set of 'Life on Mars' because you would have to live on Mars to not understand this."
Vans Stevenson, senior vice president of the Motion Picture Association of America, said he remained optimistic.
"We're in extraordinary times right now and that's something everyone has to take stock of, but in a word we're hopeful," he said. "But there's a lot of concern."
Alan Suna, chief executive of Silvercup Studios in Long Island City, said the program had "proven itself and it's time to make it permanent" because the New York industry was already losing business due to the uncertainty.
Silvercup Studios is home to series that include NBC's "30 Rock," Warner Bros. "Gossip Girl," and ABC's "Ugly Betty."
(Editing by Eric Walsh)