New York State’s tax revenues have fallen more than $1 billion behind projections since the current state budget was adopted eight months ago.

When the fiscal year starts April 1, it’ll be staring into the gaping maw of at least a $689 million shortfall. Under the circumstances, a new corporate-tax giveaway is the last thing Albany needs.

Gov. Cuomo agrees — at least for now.

Until this week, Cuomo had never seen an entertainment industry subsidy he didn’t like — including a five-year, $2.1 billion extension of the nation’s most generous state firm tax credit, set to expire in 2019.

Monday, however, he vetoed a bill that would have authorized up to $50 million in annual tax credits for music producers and digital-game developers.

The question now is whether New York will finally press “stop” on taxpayer-funded entertainment-industry subsidies. On this, Cuomo’s veto was less encouraging.

His brief veto message didn’t object to the tax credit in principal. Instead, after stressing his continued “support [for] the music and digital gaming industry,” he noted that the Legislature had approved the handout “without accompanying funding.”

Such funding, the message concluded, “must be addressed in the context of annual budget negotiations” — effectively inviting the industry to rewind and replay the credit push next year.

Passed overwhelmingly by both the Assembly and Senate in the waning hours of June, the new music and gaming tax credit would have equaled 25 percent of “below the line” production costs in the New York City metro region, and up to 35 percent of the same costs upstate.

The annual gift was to be capped at $25 million for each of the two credits, or up to $150 million over the next three years. It was modeled on the state’s $420 million a year Film Tax Credit, which is “refundable” to filers whose total tax liability comes to less than the credit amount.

Gifts like this are, to say the least, a very sweet deal — as researchers for Cuomo’s now-defunct tax reform commission pointed out in a devastating (but unpublished) study several years ago.

The study said the film tax credit — 30 percent of costs, plus a 10 percent “labor credit” outside New York City — is so generous it can amount to more than half a production company’s taxable income in a given year.

In 2008 alone, the commission’s researchers found, tax credits awarded to just 31 film producers exceeded the total tax liability of the more than 1,600 film and TV production firms doing business in the state in nine of the previous 10 years.

For a politician, the appeal is obvious: The entertainment industry is glamorous, heavily unionized — and flush with celebrities, producers and investors who know how to reward friendly politicians at campaign time.

Cuomo alone collected almost $900,000 in campaign contributions from film and TV producers during his first term, Bloomberg News reported last year.

Lobbyists for Hollywood have long argued that the credit pays for itself in the form of new jobs and business activity. But, as noted in Cuomo’s tax-reform-commission study, those claims are inflated by the assumption — preposterous on its face — that no movies or TV shows would be made in New York in the absence of the credit.

You can’t blame musicians and gamers for trying to jump on the same gravy train, even if their justification for a new tax credit boiled down to the lame assertion that, in the words of the bill sponsor’s memo, “New York is undoubtedly the home of the most creative individuals in the music industry, and graduates the finest game developers anywhere.”

Substitute “publishing” and “investment bankers” for “music” and “game developers,” and you’ve got an equally strong justification for subsidizing those industries, too.

If there’s a silver lining in New York’s increasingly pinched fiscal outlook, it’s that Cuomo and the Legislature will find it harder to favor corporate welfare over education, transportation and other basic services. Going beyond Cuomo’s veto, it’s time to bring down the curtain on New York’s giveaways to the entertainment industry, once and for all.

About the Author

E.J. McMahon

Edmund J. McMahon is Empire Center's founder and a senior fellow.

Read more by E.J. McMahon

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