SECAUCUS, N.J. - With a dismantled television series set as a backdrop, a procession of actors, producers, and directors made their case Wednesday for New Jersey to extend its tax credit for production companies, an incentive that could be cut from the state budget by the end of the month.
Representatives from Mercy and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit urged Gov. Christie to reconsider ending the 20 percent tax credit the state has offered since 2006 to lure movie and TV production companies to the Garden State. Both TV series are filmed largely in New Jersey.
Other productions filmed in New Jersey in recent years include television's The Sopranos and feature films such as The Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke as a professional wrestler past his prime, and Julie & Julia, starring Meryl Streep as famed television chef Julia Child.
"If there hadn't been a credit program in place, New Jersey would not have been an option" as a location for Mercy, series producer James Bigwood told the hearing chaired by state Senate Budget Appropriations Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo, a Democrat and supporter of the tax credit.
Wednesday's hearing was held in the warehouse where hospital drama Mercy has been filmed since last year. The series was not renewed by NBC but had been considered for cable, a possibility that was nixed because of uncertainty over the tax credit, according to Brian O'Leary, tax counsel for NBC Universal.
O'Leary contrasted the fate of Mercy with that of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, a series filmed in New York that NBC dropped but opted to move to the USA Network.
"There was a stable credit in place in New York at the time that allowed that to happen," he said.
Critics have characterized New Jersey's film tax credit as an unnecessary handout to Hollywood. Christie, a Republican, has vowed to cut it from the state budget, which must be passed by July 1.
"Like so many other items and programs in virtually every corner of the state budget, cuts had to be made and priorities considered in closing a $10.7 billion budget gap," Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said Wednesday. "Unfortunately, many things we would like to have kept could not be saved this year."
Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have some form of tax-credit program for production companies, and some offer credits as high as 35 to 40 percent. Companies qualify by meeting benchmarks for instate hiring and spending.
New Jersey is the only state considering an end to its tax credit program for budgetary reasons, according to Vans Stevenson, senior vice president for state-government affairs at the Motion Picture Association of America.