Tax breaks for the rich and a private jet for Cuomo

Governor’s close relationship with Hollywood executives reveals questionable priorities

The television and film industry is hardly hurting financially, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo insists on helping to alleviate its monetary “burdens” – if we can even call them that – with $420 million in tax breaks.

On Thursday Wikileaks released a searchable database of Sony documents and emails, which unexpectedly directed ire at Cuomo. The emails documented a friendly relationship between the governor and Sony executives – a relationship fraught with extravagant deals and frivolity.

That friendship is, of course, financially motivated.

Although the revelation of this information is ethically questionable – Wikileaks’ actions are as illegal as they are rebellious – the action has pointed a surely unwanted spotlight on Cuomo’s relationship with the film industry, one which the governor and his staff have yet to address and explain.

Cuomo has consistently supported an annual program of tax breaks that is now worth a jaw-dropping $420 million, offering tax credits to Hollywood executives in an industry that is already thriving.

It’s true that these tax credits encourage executives to bring their projects to New York, which importantly creates jobs and promotes economic development, but the sheer amount of money Cuomo is throwing at these executives should be raising eyebrows across New York State.

But what might raise even more eyebrows is what Cuomo is getting out of the tax deals.

Although the tax break program has legitimate merits – despite its overly gratuitous nature – emails detailing Sony executives’ efforts to arrange a private plane for Cuomo to fly from Hollywood to New York reek of improper priorities on the part of the governor.

And though not illegal, Sony’s determination to bundle $50,000 in donations towards Cuomo’s campaign serves as another reminder of the ulterior motives running beneath the tax credit program. It’s not just New York State that benefits.

Cuomo does, too.

And other Hollywood executives from a multitude of corporations including NBCUniversal, Fox, CBS and Paramount Pictures enjoy a close relationship with the governor – one which makes their jobs easier, their business run more efficiently and their cost of doing business a whole lot cheaper.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but while Cuomo is busy making high-level friends in Hollywood, there are pressing matters here in New York that deserve his attention even more.

There are plenty of business and projects that deserve tax breaks and personal attention from Cuomo, but they don’t necessarily have the same luster or glitz as movie production. They might not be able to offer a private plane to transport Cuomo, but industries like struggling small businesses need help, too.

They could use that $420 million a whole lot more than an industry that rakes in millions of dollars just for one film.

It cannot be denied the tax credit program for film and television projects helps bring in jobs and financial energy to the state.

But what isn’t acceptable is Cuomo’s close ties with Hollywood executives, time spent jetting across the country and attention devoted to fast-tracking film projects when far more serious issues and important, yet struggling, industries remain wrongfully relegated to the background.

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