Garden State Film and Digital Media Jobs Act clears panel

TRENTON – Among the more controversial bills facing the Senate Budget committee today, – S3056,  the “Garden State Film and Digital Media Jobs Act.” – cleared along party lines.

Intended as an economic stimulus bill, it has come under fire because of the debatable quality of some shows it has helped spawn, such as “Jersey Shore.’’

This legislation would expand and upgrade aspects of the program. First, the bill increases the annual program cap for the film production tax credit from $10 million to $50 million and for the digital media production tax credit from $5 million to $10 million. Second, the bill provides for a tax credit equal to 22 percent, instead of the current 20 percent, of eligible production expenses if the expenses represent purchases of goods from businesses located in Urban Enterprise Zones (UEZ) or purchases of services performed by residents of a UEZ.

Peter Meister, of the Newark-based Ironbound Film and Television Studios, said the bill is critical to a company such as his that provides equipment to shows filmed in New Jersey.

“We are the wires and pliers guys,’’ he said, for what is a $725 million industry in New Jersey.

He said that when the tax credit was frozen, 85 percent of their potential new business, representing $40 million over five years, “evaporated’’ overnight.

The head of the Newark Office of Film and Television, O’Brien Kelley, said the state lost out on an HBO pilot and possible series because of the uncertainty surrounding the tax credit. The pilot alone represented a $6 million investment.

Chairman and bill sponsor Sen. Paul Sarlo said he agrees with the governor who trashed “Jersey Shore’’ as a poor representation of the state, but Sarlo stressed that overall this tax program is worthwhile and creates a significant number of jobs.

“We shouldn’t censor what programs get credits,’’ he said.

Sen. Joe Pennacchio raised objections and concerns about having the taxpayers footing the bill for this. “You’re subsidizing an industry,’’ he said.

Sen. Michael Doherty seconded that concern, and said this has been a big-time loser in some other states that provide such tax credits.

Massachusetts, he said, paid out $113 million in tax credits but saw only $17.5 million in return.

Garden State Film and Digital Media Jobs Act clears panel