UPDATED with governor’s comments, 2 PM: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vetoed a bill that would have linked the state’s film incentives to diversity hiring in the state’s TV industry. The bill, which sailed through the state Legislature, would have allocated up to $5 million for companies that hire female and minority TV writers and directors.
In vetoing the bill, Cuomo wrote that the state’s $420 million film incentives program already is “extremely oversubscribed” and noted that there is nothing in the budget to pay for the additional $5 million in spending called for in the diversity bill. He also said that there are “significant technical difficulties which make the bill fatally defective.”
Read his comments in full below.
“We are stunned and disappointed by the governor’s veto,” said WGA East executive director Lowell Peterson. “New York has missed the chance to make history. Study after study, testimonial upon testimonial, have proven beyond doubt that the television industry has a major diversity problem. Women and people of color are vastly underrepresented, particularly as writers and directors, and they have been for many years. The time has come for concrete action, the kind of action called for in this important legislation – legislation which had broad and deep support across the industry, from individuals and organizations that care deeply about the people who work in the industry and about the industry’s long-term health. Audiences and taxpayers deserve and demand better. We will continue to press for meaningful change.”
Said Neil Dudich, the DGA’s Eastern executive director: “We are deeply disappointed by Governor Cuomo’s decision to veto this landmark bill which would have encouraged television employers to move beyond the status quo to consider the full spectrum of New York’s talented directors and writers. It is thanks to the governor’s leadership that the hugely successful Empire State Film Production Tax Credit has propelled New York production and industry employment to new highs – and this legislation would have built on that momentum to level the playing field for women people of color who have been underrepresented in the top jobs created behind the camera. New York is a leader in production incentives, and we look to the state to ensure those benefits extend to all New Yorkers. We are incredibly grateful to State Senator Marisol Alcantara and Assemblyman Marcos Crespo for taking a stand on this important issue and bringing this legislation to the governor’s desk, to our partners in this endeavor, the Writers Guild of America East, and to New York’s broader labor and film community who provided their support for this important goal. For decades the DGA has published study after study on the lack of inclusion in television, and we will continue to push for fairness in the hiring of directors in the industry.”
A spokesperson for the governor’s office could not be reached for comment.
The bill had received the support of the state AFL-CIO, IATSE Local 52, the International Cinematographers Guild IATSE Local 600, the Motion Pictures Editors Guild IATSE Local 700, SAG-AFTRA, and Theatrical Teamsters Local 817, among many other organizations including Broadway Stages, Eastern Effects, the New York Production Alliance and New York Women in Film and Television.
California is considering similar legislation, and Illinois already has set diversity benchmarks as part of its film incentives program, requiring that all film tax credit applicants must submit a diversity plan that details how they propose to ensure employment of a diverse crew that is representative of the state and document “good faith efforts” to carry out the plan. In addition, applicants can be denied the tax credit there if the production has low racial or gender diversity among its crew.
Here is the full text of Cuomo’s comments in vetoing the diversity bill:
“I fully support programs that seek to improve economic opportunities for underrepresented groups throughout the state,” he wrote in rejecting the bill. “However, the tax incentive program for this industry is oversubscribed and there is no additional funding for it. Despite the fact that the current film production tax credit program includes a $420 million allocation for a five-year period, the program is extremely oversubscribed. Any expansion to include an additional tax credits in this industry must be considered in the context of the budget.
“In addition, there are significant technical difficulties which make the bill fatally defective. The bill, among other things, fails to (i) identify how the tax credit should be computed or what amount could be claimed; (ii) identify when a taxpayer could claim the credit; and (iii) provide a clear definition of ‘writer’ and ‘director.’
“Further, assuming those technical concerns were addressed, the bill lacks statistical evidence necessary to ensure that the program would withstand constitutional scrutiny. In order to constitutionally classify individuals on the basis of race or ethnicity, the state must demonstrate statistically significant evidence of race-based discrimination against screenwriters and directors.
“I am also concerned that the bill seeks to provide an incentive for above-the-line production costs, which is contrary to the existing film production tax credit program. New York’s film and TV production tax incentives are aimed not at Hollywood stars and producers, but rather to individuals who work steadily on set and in post-production who are seeking increased employment opportunities and advancement within the state. For these reasons, I am constrained to veto this bill.
“Notwithstanding these concerns, I am directing the Empire State Development Corporation to work with bill sponsors and interested stakeholders to assist in the development of a study that would determine whether there is a statistically significant disparity between the number of minority group members and women ready, willing, and able to work as writers in the television industry in New York state and the statistical share of writing work actually performed by such group. The bill is disapproved.”