FORT LEE – In the town where Goodfellas was shot, a town that was a pre-Hollywood film Mecca, a few Democrats are worried that the film industry will get knocked off. Three lawmakers met with the press today to make their case for re-instating the New Jersey Film and Digital Tax Credit Program.
In the same tier as horse racing, according to proponents, the film industry provides a billion dollars annually to the state economy – $500 million in wages and $500 million in vendor business.
The state’s TV and movie tax break was first sponsored by former U.S. Rep. John Adler during his time in the Statehouse, but Gov. Chris Christie put a lid on the industry incentive after his administration claimed it wasn’t paying off and because it was only creating short-term employment.
“These are good paying jobs, technical jobs, union jobs,” said state Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-36), of Wood-Ridge. “Governor, we have 9.5 percent unemployment here. We need to create jobs.”
Sarlo caught flack recently after he criticized the state’s application of the credit to the reality TV show “Jersey Shore,” even though he was the bill’s sponsor.
“I don’t want to get caught up in the whole reality TV (debate),” he said today. “All we’re asking for is an opportunity.”
Lobbyist Bill Pascrell III, speaking on behalf of his client NBC, said the credit isn’t applied until the project is wrapped. “It is inaccurate for anyone to portray that there is a fiscal impact this year or next year,” he said. “We’re losing jobs by the minute.”
“It’s not a tax credit to Brad Pitt,” Pascrell said. “It is a tax credit which allows production to come into this state.”
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37), of Teaneck, stressed the state’s – and Fort Lee’s – history in the film business. “We have a proud history of the arts, and certainly of filmmaking,” Weinberg said. “We stand for a lot more than just Snooki and the Jersey Housewives.”
Tomorrow, she said, the Film Directors’ Guild will present their lifetime achievement award to Fort Lee’s Alice Guy Blache exactly 125 years after the debut of her first film.
At the same time, she said, “New Jersey is turning its back (on the industry).”
“Let’s let the (Economic Development Authority) find the right productions, offer the tax credit, and celebrate Fort Lee,” Weinberg said.
Assemblywoman Joan Voss (D-38), of Fort Lee, said she remembers Goodfellas shooting down the block from her, and cautioned against over-glamorizing the tax break.
“It’s not actresses and actors and directors,” she said. “It’s for the carpenters, for trades, people who need jobs.”