Crony Capitalism

New York Refuses To Divulge How Much It Subsidizes Specific Movies

Want to know how much of your money paid for Best Picture-winner Birdman? Too bad!

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If politicians are going to take your money and give it to billion-dollar Hollywood studios, the least they can do is tell you how much they're actually handing out.

According to The New York Post, the state of New York won't even provide that courtesy. New York forks over the most money of any state, with a cap of $420 million in taxpayer money annually going to film studios—a total of over $1.5 billion since 2006.

The state legislature has ordered Empire State Development (ESD), which runs the film subsidy program, to disclose specific tax credit figures for each production, but ESD has refused to provide that information, claiming it takes years to calculate the final subsidy totals.

This claim is eyebrow-raising, as the state with the second-largest tax break total, California, lists such information on its website every year. (When you can point to California as a paradigm of government transparency, you know you have issues, New York.)

Research has shown that for every tax dollar lost in revenue to film tax credits, benefiting productions generate less than 30 cents in economic activity. According to the Post, many of the credits given to this year's Oscar Best Picture–winner Birdman were not so much even reductions in taxes as they were merely cash grants.

Star-struck politicians often attempt to justify these crony deals by claiming studios wouldn't film in their states without them, and that the subsidies bring jobs. As Michigan and many other states have shown, though, these policies have had laughably negligible effects on jobs and instead merely line the coffers of Hollywood studios at the expense of local taxpayers.

New York doesn't even follow this line of thought, though. The state gave out massive subsidies to NBC's "Tonight Show" and CBS's "Late Show" despite neither giving any indication it would leave New York without them.

Luckily, New York is part of what seems to be a shrinking number of states offering film tax credits. In 2010, 40 states doled out $1.4 billion in such arrangements. Last year, only 32 states had such programs in place.

In her acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress at Sunday's Academy Awards, Patricia Arquette gave a shout out to "every taxpayer and citizen of this nation." They certainly deserved it, since a good chunk of nearly every American production was paid for on their dime.