Cynthia Nixon is best known for playing Miranda Hobbes on Sex and the City, which ran for six years on HBO and spawned two feature films. Now she’s on the campaign trail, challenging New York Governor Andrew Cuomo—and blasting some of the very tax credits that helped her attain fame. It’s part of a critique of corporate cronyism that could close the still-sizable polling gap between Nixon and the incumbent governor.
New York spends more than $400 million per year on a film production tax credit, which is essentially a tax break that reimburses a percentage of the costs production companies incur while making movies or television shows in the Empire State. It’s New York’s single largest business incentive program. Last year, beneficiaries included Master of None, Elementary, and Law and Order: SVU. In previous years, among many other films, both Sex and the City and Sex and the City 2 cashed in, collectively benefiting to the tune of about $13.6 million.
Proponents argue that subsidizing film and television production in this way promotes job creation and other economic activity. Nixon isn’t buying it.
“I don’t think there’s any real truth that that enormous expenditure of money is making a significant enough difference in production to justify it,” she told the Buffalo News. She later said that “we’ve got to improve the Film Production Tax Credit in a smart way that works for all working families, so that we’re protecting jobs of the New York-based crew instead of the lion’s share of tax credits going to the big movie companies in Los Angeles.”
Nixon is correct on the policy. Dozens of states currently subsidize movie and television production, by more than $1 billion annually. However, most studies show that such tax breaks do the exact opposite of what’s advertised: Not only don’t they create new jobs; they don’t come anywhere close to recouping their up-front costs.
According to a University of Southern California study in 2016, the effect on employment and wages in states with film-incentives programs, including New York, was not appreciably different from zero. Meanwhile, a different study of Maryland’s film-incentive program—used to subsidize House of Cards and Veep, among other programs—found that the state recouped just six cents in revenue for every dollar spent. Other states see similarly paltry returns.