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Tax credits for Schenectady

Friday, April 4, 2014
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This year’s state budget got mixed reviews, with plenty of praise as well as criticism. But the reaction should be uniformly positive in Schenectady when it comes to a couple of arts-related measures.

One will provide a new tax credit to encourage New York City theater companies to use upstate theaters like Proctors for technical rehearsals before taking their shows on the road. This “teching” brings to town actors and crew members — often for weeks at a time — who spend money at local hotels, restaurants, bars, etc. Based on the impact in Providence, R.I., and Chattanooga, Tenn., places that already offer this kind of tax credit and get a lot of technical rehearsals as a result, the $4 million in state tax credits will generate many times that much in economic activity.

This would be an investment in upstate’s distressed cities (Albany, Utica, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo all have “teching”-able downtown theaters), which Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been looking for ways to help. And at least some of it would eventually be recouped by the state through income and sales tax revenues. Proctors’ CEO, Philip Morris, deserves credit for mobilizing his fellow theater managers about a year ago and pushing the idea.

The other good news is that Schenectady and Albany counties will now be eligible for an enhanced state film tax credit they were left out of when it was expanded to upstate last year. Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara and Sen. Hugh Farley sponsored legislation to include them, but Cuomo vetoed it, saying the matter should be part of this year’s budget negotiations — which, fortunately, is how it turned out. The credit could result in more economy-boosting movies being filmed here, like “The Place Beyond the Pines.”

It could also bring renewed interest by a California entertainment company that last year proposed a $69 million television and film studio for the Alco site in Schenectady. This, however, is unlikely to happen without a $15 million state grant the company has sought, the Capital Region Economic Development Council has supported, and the state should consider. Such a studio would bring 1,000 new jobs and a free-spending, tourism-promoting, exciting new industry to Schenectady.

The state’s film tax credit has been criticized for its size — $420 million annually — and the fact that it goes mostly for films and television productions in New York City, a good number of which would be staged there anyway. Perhaps the credit should be cut back, but not upstate, which badly needs it and where it could have a great impact.

 
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