By Robert Ortt
Recently, the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles played host to the 2019 Oscars, where Hollywood’s most talented actors and glamorous people gathered to celebrate this year’s best pictures.
The Oscars came at an interesting time — a time when New York is at a crossroads. The recent events surrounding Amazon have led to a revisiting of the principle of taxpayer-funded corporate welfare. New York State’s film tax credit, championed by the governor and downstate representatives, should not escape scrutiny by elected officials, the public and the media.
Along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other elected officials, Senate Democrats recently opposed and killed a deal that projected to create a $24 billion profit and 25,000 jobs for the state of New York. Instead of settling down in Long Island City, Amazon will now look elsewhere to create its next technological hub.
Democrats pointed to labor, transparency and local development concerns in their opposition. But once public outcry implicated them in forcing tens of billions in tax revenue and tens of thousands of jobs out of the state, Democrats coalesced around another argument: They opposed the subsides Amazon would receive in exchange for their business.
First, they ignore reality and the environment they created. The only reason Amazon was willing to come to New York was because of the subsides it would receive to overcome New York’s sky-high taxes and crippling regulations. And thanks to New York Democrats, New York has solidified its position and reputation as one of the worst places to do business in the country.
But to the Democrats who squarely own this boondoggle, I offer this: Perhaps some good can come from this. The Amazon dust has settled and Senate Democrats are on the record opposing giveaways to corporations. Unfortunately, New York State is responsible for one of the largest film tax credits in the country. Our state, and its taxpayers, handed out over $1.2 billion to Hollywood producers and filmmakers over the last four years. What started as a modest $25 million per year credit back in 2004 has now grown nearly 17 times its original size, doling out nearly half a billion in taxpayer funds annually.
There is no better time to revisit our state’s practice of handing out taxpayer dollars to studios that produce films in our state. While Senate Democrats will face a stiff fight against Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his film industry backers, I would be happy to provide some much need backup on what should not be a partisan issue. Together, we can stop asking middle-class, hard-working New Yorkers to enrich NBC Studios or executives like Harvey Weinstein.
If Democrats were outraged with Amazon and willing to jeopardize a $24 billion profit and 25,000 jobs, taking on Hollywood seems like a no-brainer for New York’s Democrats. I just hope that Hollywood’s unabashed progressivism and donations to Democratic candidates doesn’t cloud the Dems' judgment or sense of moral outrage. That would be a performance worthy of an Oscar.
Robert Ortt is a state senator from North Tonawanda.